Men’s basketball splits series with nail-biting games

The Thunderbirds visited the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for a two-game series this weekend. Each game was a nail-biter, leading to a weekend split. They walked away with a win from Friday’s game, 82–78, but dropped Saturday’s action 78–75.

Friday’s contest saw a fast paced, physical start. Tied at 13 with 4 minutes to go in the first, the Huskies turned on the jets and went on a 12–3 run. The ‘Birds rebounded by the final minute but still trailed by five going into the second.

The ‘Birds continued adding pressure and it paid off when James Woods converted an acrobatic finish at the rim, giving his team the lead. The two teams would continue to exchange blows, eventually leading to a one-point T-Bird lead before the half.

In the third, things began to open up for the Thunderbirds. Third-year forward Tobi Akinkunmi hit a smooth catch-and-shoot three-pointer and followed that with a layup and a subsequent successful foul. He brought the team’s lead to 10, which they held onto going into the fourth.

The Huskies came out full-force in the final frame, quickly cutting the lead down to two. However, the Birds remained composed and closed out the game on top 82–78.

Brian Wallack dominated the paint with an imposing 28 points and 11 rebounds while sinking 12 of 15 free throws. Akinkunmi was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end as well, picking up eight rebounds and two emphatic blocks, both off Huskie perimeter attempts.

The next game saw more back-and-forth action. Both teams started strong, but the first quarter was highlighted by Huskie senior guard, Chan De Ciman, going four for four from beyond the arc.

This continued in the second quarter where the Huskies snagged an 11-point lead halfway through. The ‘Birds responded with quick points from Fareed Shittu, along with a Wallack lay-in off the glass just before the buzzer, for a halftime score of 44–38 in favour of the Huskies.

The ‘Birds look determined at the start of the third. They closed the gap and took a one-point lead with three minutes remaining in the quarter. However, it was short-lived as the Huskies replied less than a minute later and never looked back. The Bird’s looked to stay in it, keeping the game within a possession or two, but couldn’t seem to get over the hump.

Even with 20 seconds left, hope was not lost. Third-year guard Micah Jessie went coast-to-coast for an open layup, cutting the lead to three. The ‘Birds forced a turnover on an inbounds play but couldn’t find any open space for a tying three. The game would finish with a score of 78–75 in favour of the Huskies.

Wallack’s hot weekend continued in this game, netting a team high 23 points while converting 11 of his 13 shots. Shittu was next on that scoring list with 15, while adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block to his line.

The Thunderbirds look toward an anticipated, two game matchup with the rival University of Victoria Vikes. They open the series away on Thursday but will return to War Memorial Gymnasium for Courtside on Saturday night at 6.p.m.