In Jamie Searle’s first season with the Lakehead Thundersolves he never imagined he’d be wearing a division championship crown.
The men’s basketball team finished 1-21 that season , their only win a one-point triumph over McMaster. On Saturday Searle and the Thunderwolves came full circle, claiming the OUA West Division with a convincing 79-58 win over the visiting Brock Badgers. It was a fitting end for Searle’s regular season homecourt career, a memory the Belleville, Ont. native will keep forever.
“Words can’t explain it, I don’t think,” said Searle, who had 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds in front of a packed house at the Thuderdome.
“We started from the bottom. We didn’t even make playoffs the first three years. Now look, we clinched probably the first ever OUA West (title) for the team. It’s been amazing. It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of time in the gym, a lot of sacrifices. But you know, it’s all worth it right now.”
The Wolves (16-4), surprised the basketball world, making their first Final 8 appearance in more than three decades.
They finished tied for top spot with Windsor last year, but lost the division on a tiebreaker. This year everyone knew they were coming, but few have been able to stop them.
LU coach Scott Morrison, on the hotseat during Searle’s freshman season in 2006-07, doesn’t want to put too much stock into the accomplishment, but the Prince Edward Island native admitted it felt good.
“I guess I’m trying to stay focused on next week, but I’ll probably take a couple of hours tonight and then definitely when the season’s over we’ll be looking back upon as a major part of our success, but hopefully just the start of the goals we’re going to reach,” Morrison said.
The Thunderwolves game plan was simple – get the ball to pivot Yoosrie Salhia inside and let him do the rest, making the most of a mismatch against Brock’s Andrew Ferguson.
“The biggest problem, I felt from last night was not going inside enough,” said Morrison. “We thought we had good matchups there, but they got the better of us last night. So tonight we changed a couple of plays around based on what they were doing on defence and got the ball to Yoos.”
Salhia had eight points in the first quarter, 16 at the break and finished with 24, topping all scorers as LU completed the weekend sweep.
Up by nine after one, the Wolves extended their lead to 31-16 by the midway point of the second and finished the half with a 42-31 lead.
Unlike the night before, when Lakehead allowed the Badgers to come storming back in the third quarter, the Thunderwolves kept growing their lead for much of the quarter, stretching it to 21 by the midway point, easily allowing them to withstand a late charge.
But getting to within 10 points was a close as they’d get.
Michael Cruickshank led the way for the Badgers with 16 points. Mark Gibson finished with a dozen, while Cedric Kasano had 11.
Venzal Russell was No. 2 for Lakehead with 14.
Searle, Andrew Hackner and Andrew Quirion were honoured before the game as graduating seniors.
Claw marks: Joseph Jones dressed, but did not play for the Wolves because of concussion-like symptoms. Morrison said he expects the Washington, D.C. native to begin practicing on Monday ... The Wolves take to the road to play Western next weekend.