The Lakehead University Thunderwolves were crowned Ontario University Champions at the Wilson Cup this weekend in dramatic fashion. Lakehead weathered the storm against Ottawa, earning a 71-69 victory and went on to upset the undefeated, six-time national champions Carleton Ravens to earn their first Wilson Cup victory in team history.
The Wilson Cup was held in Hamilton this year, as the OUA tried out a new format that calls for a neutral site as the location for the championship games. Distance be dammed, Thunderwolves fans packed the house in Hamilton, and the Wolves did not disappoint.
In quarterfinal action Lakehead took on the Ottawa Gigi’s, narrowly defeating them by two points. The end of the game needed to be seen to be believed; it played out like a scene from a Hollywood movie.
Allow me to set the stage. Jamie Searle ties the game up with a pair of free throws with only 19.3 seconds to go. With the game tied 69-69, Ottawa brings the ball into the offensive zone. Jamie Searle steps in and puts pressure on the ball carrier, forcing a bad pass that was grabbed by Yoosrie Salhia, who pushes the ball up the court. With seconds left on the clock, the ball ends up in Venzal Russel’s hands. Russel puts up the shot with only seconds left in the game and ends Ottawa’s Season with less than a second on the clock.
The Wolves narrowly pulled off the win against Ottawa, despite leading Ottawa by 13 at half. Credit to Ottawa for mounting an incredible comeback against the Wolves; despite looking down and out, they marched back and made a game out of Friday night.
Yoosrie Salhia finished Friday night’s action with 13 points and 10 rebounds, Russel put up 17 points and 7 rebounds, and Greg Carter finished with 9 points and 7 assists. Despite having a quieter night that usual on the scoreaboard, Jamie Searle had a strong game, his calm demeanor helped settle the Wolves as Ottawa put on the pressure, and Searle forced Ottawa to make a bad play that resulted in Russel’s last minute buzzer beater.
Saturday night’s championship game is best summed up by coach Scott Morrision’s prolific words heard on the Score: “Fuck these guys.”
Morrision gave the Wolves a rallying cry against the six-time national champions, and showed all the viewers that Lakehead would not be intimidated. Morrision commented after the game that building the confidence of his team was a big part in his game plan.
“I wanted our guys to go out there and not be intimidated by Carleton, that they’re human just like us. We got up by ten [in the fourth quarter] and we just kept hitting shots. I told the team that this was our time.”
Morrison was not done providing us with prolific quotes. Morrision ended the night telling the media that “Thunder Bay’s in the house tonight.”
Many have deemed what the Wolves have accomplished a Cinderella story this year, however I believe that discredits the hard work and talent of the Thunderwolves. Last year, Lakehead made it to the national championships, and the team had set high expectations of themselves for the year. If anything can be said about this team, it is that they want to win, and they are willing to work.
Jamie Searle hinted at the hard work of the squad after Saturday night’s win, saying, “Carleton’s an amazing team, but we knew this was our night.We knew we were the only team to have a chance against them, and we worked for 40 minutes to get it done.”
Lakehead is the first team to walk away with a victory against the Carelton Ravens this year, who are now 22-1.
Lakhead’s shooting was on target Saturday night, as multiple three-pointers helped sour Carleton’s night. Lakehead was outrebounded by Ottawa 35-32, and the play was very physical. Both teams battled for loose balls, and were not willing to be pushed around.
Ottawa seemed to be in unfamiliar territory, struggling to deal with the surging Wolves. Frustration was evident on the Carleton squad – they don’t lose often and they showed they have trouble dealing with adversity. The Wolves may now be in their heads, as they defeated them convincingly Saturday night, and provided Carleton with one of their only losses last year in the regular season.
There was some slight controversy at the end of the second quarter, as Joseph Jones drained a buzzer-beating half court shot, only to have the referees claim it was after the buzzer. Fortunately, the OUAs are FIFA, and they incorporate the use of video reply. After reviewing the play, Jones was awarded his basket, and Lakehead’s outside shooting continued to propel them to victory.
Searle was named the Porter Player of the game and was awarded the Keith Macpherson trophy as the most outstanding player in the Wilson Cup final. Searle posted a team-leading 23 points, went 6 for 6 on free throws, and 8 for 15 from the arc. Joseph Jones put up 15 points, Ryan Thompson tallied 12 points, and Yosrie Salhia had 10 points on the night, and led the wolves with 9 rebounds.
Lakehead now advances to the final 8 and will compete for a national title in Halifax. After a disappointing showing last year in the nationals, Lakehead is looking to show Canada that they are a true contender, and players like Jamie Searle and Andrew Hackner will be searching for vindication for the hard work they have put in the past 5 years, seeing the team rise from the basement of the OUAs to the top team in the province – and now having a shot at national acclaim.
Article photo by Mike Bennett