Drama certainly finds the Lakehead Thunderwolves wherever they go.
After spotting a 12-point lead to the McMaster Marauders at the half, Dwayne Harvey scored 15 of his team-high 17 points and Ben Johnson tallied 13 as the Thunderwolves put their high-octane offence and pressure defence on display over the final two quarters to rally for an 81-76 win in the second round of the Ontario university men’s basketball playoffs on Saturday night.
Next for Lakehead is a trip to Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens for the OUA Final Four where the Wilson Cup and three berths to the Canadian championship tournament are up for grabs.
Johnson, one of six seniors who would have ended their varsity careers with a loss Saturday, said the team needed to regain their ground after McMaster’s strong start.
“It was everyone waiting for that moment, waiting for us to get going. It doesn’t happen and doesn’t happen and doesn’t happen,” said Johnson.
“Once we leaned on our defence like we did in the second half, I think we’re tough to beat.”
Greg Carter added 12 points and a game-high seven steals. Harvey became the “fill-in the blanks” man head coach Scott Morrison wanted him to be since training camp. The Hamilton native dished out five assists to go with two steals and three rebounds.
“Dwayne’s one of our best players we have to read the defence,” Morrison said. “Once he gets a few minutes under his belt and sees what the defence is doing, he’s a dangerous threat out there.”
The news wasn’t all good for the Thunderwolves (15-7), who lost starting forward Ryan Thomson after he suffered an apparent knee injury in the final minute of play while being fouled.
Thomson, who finished with eight points, and Johnson traded four three-pointers down the stretch after the Marauders had cut LU’s lead to four.
“I know he got hurt in this exact game last year and it was a big factor for the rest of our season,” Morrison said.
“I really hope it’s not as bad as last season. . . . I don’t know the extent of it. We’ll be ready either way.”
McMaster centre Taylor Black led all scorers with 29 points and seven rebounds. Aaron Redpath added 16 for the Marauders, who jumped out to a 15-4 lead before the capacity crowd at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse was still buzzing from the raucous player introductions.
Lakehead climbed to within three points at the quarter-break before Black hit back-to-back threes and Rohan Boney drove down the lane for a 36-23 lead, eventually staking McMaster to a 39-27 bulge at the half.
But the Thunderwolves didn’t panic to open the second half. Instead, they went on a 15-3 scoring run of their own — highlighted by two layups each from Carter and Harvey. Harvey’s third layup off a hard screen 4:46 into the quarter gave the home team their first lead at 43-42.
“I saw my team down and knew we needed a spark. I just tried to play the way I knew how to play,” said Harvey, who’s in his first year at LU after transferring from two U.S. colleges.
The Marauders never seemed to recover after surrendering the lead despite Nathan Pelech’s fadeaway shot ended the third quarter with the game tied 49-49. McMaster couldn’t contain LU’s surging offensive unit, who bounced back by shooting 56.3 per cent from the field in the second half after just 33 per cent in the first half.
“We should be thanking our blessings right now that we were able to come back from that game,” Morrison said.
“On one hand I wasn’t surprised. I told the guys they made a living doing that kind of thing doing that in big games. At the same time, we have to realize that we are fortunate. They outplayed us in the first 20 minutes. If it wasn’t for some timely turnovers, we would have lost that game.
“Once we get the floor spread and allow guys like Dwayne and Greg to get in the middle we’re tough to beat, especially if we have shooters on the perimeter to knock shots down,” he added.
Thomson pumped his fist and screamed upward after his first three-pointer sailed in. Johnson flexed and scowled when his corner shot hit pay dirt and Harvey chose to half-skip down the floor when his dagger from the top of the three-point line pushed LU’s lead to 76-65.
“I’m not really a McMaster fan to be honest,” Harvey said with a smile. “Growing up (in Hamilton) I never watched any of their games, didn’t support their school — still don’t support their school. They don’t let us play in the gym in the summers so not really a fan.”
The schools awaiting the Thunderwolves in Toronto — No. 1-ranked Carleton Ravens (who LU will face first), Windsor Lancers and the Ottawa Gee-Gees — will be a lot tougher than the Marauders, warns Morrison.
“We’re trying to have our best week of practice this week and take a couple of swings at Carleton best we can,” Morrison said. “If we connect that’d be great. We’ll be playing for the (OUA) championship. If we don’t connect we’ll get two cracks at this.”