THUNDER BAY – Three times Friday night the Lakehead Thunderwolves had a chance to take a fourth-quarter lead over the No. 2 Ryerson Rams.
The basket never came.
Tied 56-56 after Lakehead’s Darnell Curtin buried a three-pointer 17 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Rams finally pulled away for good, reeling off an 11-2 run and they went on to down a pesky Thunderwolves squad 77-68 at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
Given that the Wolves had lost 112-45 two weeks earlier against the top-ranked Carleton Ravens, another mismatch appeared imminent when the Rams arrived in town, a team fresh off a trip to the national final last spring and boasting one of the top players in the country in 6-foot-8 guard Jean-Victor Mukama.
Lakehead guard Isaiah Traylor, who led his team with 23 points, called the single-digit loss a great effort, even if the Thunderwolves fell a few points short of pulling off the upset of the OUA men’s basketball season.
“They’re a very good team. They’re ranked No. 2 in the country. We came in here knowing that and we tried to play hard as we could. We had too many turnovers late in the game and that’s really what killed this game,” said Traylor.
The Thunderwolves struggled to drive the lane most of the night – although they did pick things up in the second half. Nonetheless the Rams managed to block 13 shots on the night – eight by 7-foot-2 NBA hopeful Tanor Ngom – turning opportunities into turnovers that proved costly all night long.
LU coach Ryan Thomson said they made the necessary adjustments.
“The first half we were going up a bit soft. You can’t challenge a guy who is 7-foot-2 off one foot,” Thomson said. “You’ve got to land on two and shot fake. Devarius (Wright) adjusted in the second half and got some better looks off of it. But he blocked eight shots and that’s pretty impressive.”
The Rams led by as many as 11 in the opening quarter, but couldn’t pull away in the second, taking a six-point lead into the second half after Darnell Curtin drained a three late in the period to cut the gap to 38-32.
Ryerson extended their lead to 13 in the third on a two-handed dunk by Ngom, but a quick seven-point burst by Wright cut it to eight, Things got brighter for the Wolves before time ran out in the third, Traylor nailing a buzzer-beater from beyond the arc that left it a one-possession contest heading into the final 10 minutes.
Despite the loss, there’s plenty of positives to take from the game, Thomson said.
“Really the last three games I thought we’ve been great,” he said. “As a team we’ve stayed together, we’ve played well. I keep telling the guys we’ve had our best two weeks of practice the last two weeks. What it came down to tonight was just 14 second-half turnovers.
“We had eight in the first half and you can kind of survive with eight, but eventually it’s going to bite you in the (butt), but 14 is too many.”
Lakehead’s defence did a great job keeping Mukama at bay, holding him to 14 points, six below his per-game average. Frederick led the Rams with 17, while Filip Vujainovich chipped in 14.
Wright finished with 16 and Lock Lam added 15 for Lakehead, who slipped to 2-7 on the season. The streaking Rams, who jumped ahead of No. 1 Carleton in the OUA East, climbed to 10-0. Lakehead wraps up the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule on Saturday at home against Toronto (3-6).