THUNDER BAY – As it stands, dropping a pair of games to Western and Windsor on the road might not have much of an impact on the playoff fortunes of the Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s basketball team – at least not in the standings.
The Thunderwolves pulled away from the upset-minded University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks to claw out an OUA Central Division-clinching 91-70 home-court win on Friday night, guaranteeing they’ll finish no lower than third when the playoffs roll around next week.
A win in their regular-season finale on Friday night means they’ll be the second seed and have home-court advantage against 10 of the other 11 teams, excluding the top-ranked Carleton Ravens.
The three division winners are seeded 1-2-3, with the team with the next best record getting the fourth and final first-round bye.
A Lakehead win or a Western loss would earn the Wolves second billing.
“It’s good. We’d hoped to have done it last week with one of those games, but we didn’t play particularly well. We didn’t play particularly well tonight either, but took care of business,” said LU coach Ryan Thomson.
The third-year coach said most importantly, he wanted his team, ranked eighth in the nation – a drop of three from last week – to find its winning form again.
Stumbling into the playoffs is never a good thing.
“It’s just getting some momentum and trying to nurse some of those injuries so we’re ready to go when we need to. Clinching and getting that extra day off so we don’t have to play on Wednesday is huge for us,” Thomson said.
Although they don’t know their opponent, they will host a one-game playoff series at the Thunderdome next Saturday night.
They got to the top 10 in Canada in part because of the play of graduating guard Isaiah Traylor, and it’s no surprise he was who carried them against a Ridgebacks team that finished at 1-21 after season No. 1.
Traylor, who had 11 points at the half, scored 20 of his 31 in the second half, as the Thunderwolves turned a 34-27 game at the break into a 21-point rout.
The Ridgebacks hung around in the early going of the third, closing the gap to as little as three. But after Lock Lam, who finished the game with four blocks and upped his career total to 121, one shy of Yoosrie Salhia’s all-time school record, made a pair of free throws and a two point bucket to stretch the lead back to seven.
Then Traylor went coast-to-coast to continue an 11-0 run.
The Ridgebacks never closed within less than 14 the rest of the way.
Lam finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth. Laoui Msambya continued his strong play of late, adding 15 to go with nine boards and four assists.
Graddy Kanku led UOIT with 22 points, 12 of them coming at the charity stripe. Ammar Hassan had 19 for the Ridgebacks.
Lakehead hosts Queen’s on Saturday night, with the second seed on the line. Game time is 8 p.m.