Ryan Thomson is saving the game tape for another day. For now it’s life in the decompression chamber of the Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s head coach’s office, trying to get his thoughts in order after the season-ending 67-64 loss to visiting Guelph on Wednesday.
Still, it was a season of tremendous accomplishments.
“We had a lot of positives. I think we had a group of guys who really worked well together, really bought in to what we wanted to do, really wanted to see other guys achieve and succeed,” said Thomson. “You could see it after the game. They were all pretty devastated by the outcome. Everyone was disappointed with the way it ended given what we thought we could have accomplished.”
The team had a 16-6 regular season record, plenty of appearances in the top-10 rankings, and Thomson appeared in the top coaches ranking multiple times
Graduating players Michael Okafor, Alston Harris, and Dylan Morrison will not be back.
“I thought Michael had a great year. He’s super impactful on both ends of the floor, can really put his stamp on the game,” said Thomson. “I thought Alston really found a rhythm second semester for us, which was awesome to see. Dylan was as steady as ever, especially being our anchor defensively was huge for us all year.”
The growing continues for Thomson.
“I think I was a better coach this year than I was last year. I hope next year I’ll be able to say that, too, at the end of the year,” said Thomson, a pupil of former LU coach Scott Morrison. “It’s finding ways to continue to make sure our guys perform and be at their best when it matters the most for us. It’s building confidence throughout the year so guys feel that when their number’s called they ready to contribute.”
The team had a seven-game winning streak from Jan. 13-Feb. 3. However, they were 2-3 heading into their showdown with Guelph on Wednesday.
“All year we talked about being the best when it mattered the most, peaking at the right time. Sometimes things are outside your control with things like that. Injuries hit us at an unfortunate time,” said Thomson.
Wings Tyler Sagl and Chume Nwigwe were two players unavailable for the playoff game.
Despite the crushing loss, Thomson wanted to put a different perspective on it
“Our guys can be very proud of what they accomplished this year, 23-7, whatever it is at this point,” he said. “I think those guys can be very proud of their contributions to the program and what they were able to do this year.
“For the guys who are returning I hope they can keep building off that. For the guys who are moving on, hopefully it’s a springboard for them to keep their confidence and keep growing,” he added.
For now, Thomson will take the time to process the loss, while continuing to build next year’s roster.
“More recruiting, for sure. We’ve been pretty active. It’s one of those things that’s ongoing throughout the year. We’ll keep hammering away at it,” he said.
The players will have a little time to “decompress” before heading back to the gym, the spring league and youth programming. For now, the loss will still be fresh, especially as the OUA’s second round rolls on this weekend.
“Still pretty new, I think. After you lose a game like that you’re always second-guessing adjustments, match-ups, preparation, everything you can look at,” said Thomson 18 hours after the loss. “You try to evaluate that and try to eliminate the emotion. It’s a challenge, especially right away. Things will be a little bit more clear next week, and certainly the week after that.
“Only one team is going to be happy at the end of the year,” he added.
Thomson said Guelph was able to grow their confidence early on.
“If you don’t set the tone right away it’s tough to then re-set it. Sometimes one team is cooking and the other team is not. It’s the challenge of one-game playoffs. You have to be ready to go,” he said. “Some nights you have it, some nights you don’t.”
Only 13 points were scored in the fourth quarter with Guelph holding a slight 7-6 advantage.
“I couldn’t believe that when I saw the box score afterwards. Felt like a real slugfest,” said Thomson. “We could feel points were tough to come by. I thought we had some pretty good looks. We had a couple lay-ups roll in roll out. We had a couple of good looks at threes that didn’t go down for us. Sometimes shot don’t fall.”
Lakehead had no three-pointers in the second half, and were just 2-for-19 from the field in the final quarter.
Thomson will eventually look at the game that ended his season. He took a step back and looked at the bigger picture.
“It’s the best place to play. We have the greatest fan support, community support. Our guys put in a lot of work with Blaze Basketball, with other youth programs, and with our camps. You see kids in their Blaze reversible (jerseys) at the game with their parents. Our guys really appreciate that,” he said.
“The Indigenous Celebration Night, the jersey night, was awesome with the amount of fans and people involved and just the execution of it,” he added. “Pretty cool for our guys to be the first to have that experience. Senior Night was a great crowd, and last night was awesome, too. . . . Makes it fun to be a part of.”
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