Thunderwolves stun Ottawa No. 2 at home
Michael Okafor scored 16 points in the second half to lead No. 9 Lakehead from a 10-point halftime deficit.
THUNDER BAY — A week after knocking down No. 3 Brock on the road, the Lakehead Thunderwolves faced an even tougher task at home — the No. 2 Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The T-Wolves are no slouch themselves, ranked 9th in the national rankings, but are still a team vying for recognition from the basketball world.
If they didn’t have it before Friday night, they have it now.
Lakehead fell 10 points at halftime, largely on the back of star goaltender Michael Okafor, who blasted his way through the paint in the second and third, scoring 16 of his 18 points after the break to lead the Thunderwolves to a stunning 66-62 win over the previously undefeated Gee-Gees at CJ Sanders Fieldhouse.
“I just trusted my team and the coaches and everything,” said Okafor, who scored seven straight points in the third to turn a 53-43 game into a one-possession affair.
“Last weekend I had a bad weekend, but it didn’t really bother me. They just told me to play my game and keep going. It was just that positivity that kept me going in the second half. In the first half I had two points, but in the second half we had the same positivity in the dressing room. I’m the guy, so I have to keep going.
It didn’t help that he found himself in trouble early in the game, relegated to the bench for much of the second quarter.
It was a strategy that worked, however unorthodox, coach Ryan Thomson knew he needed Okafor’s offensive and defensive presence to keep the Gee-Gees honest.
It was a decisive win, striker Eric Gonzalez said, after coming off the bench to score nine points, including a key three-pointer with 1:40 left in regular time that clinched LU’s lead for good, in up from 64-62 at the time. .
Ottawa had briefly taken the lead two minutes earlier on a bucket from Josh Inkumsah, after Lakehead took a four-point lead.
“We showed we’re trying to do something big this year,” said Gonzalez, who added five rebounds and a pair of steals.
“We are trying to achieve our goal, which is not just nationals, but the championship.”
Ottawa took control early and built a nine-point lead after the first quarter, punctuated by a three-point shot from Quincy Louis-Jeune, Dragan Stajic closed it by stealing the inbound pass and firing a buzzer shot .
Lakehead cut the gap to four early in the second when Nathan Bilamu struck from long range, but Louis-Jeune brought it back to 10 with a last-minute trey.
Despite their best efforts, the Thunderwolves struggled to tie or take the lead in fourth, at least early on. Javier Fernandez was fouled on a three-point attempt but only managed one free throw, and Lakehead trailed 55-54.
They had had several chances in the third to get back on flat ground, but the shots didn’t fall. But it wasn’t supposed to be for Ottawa.
Chris Sagl fired a three that bounced around the edge and across, and Lakehead took its first lead of the night, 2:38 into the fourth. After Gonzalez gave them the lead late in the fourth, Okafor stole the ball and went to the hoop, completing the three-point lead at the free throw line, LU leading 67-62. But then he missed a pair of free throws after Wolves got the ball back, giving Ottawa hope.
Gonzalez almost crushed it in the final seconds, putting a shot in the paint, making it a two possession game with 10 seconds left.
“We didn’t have a very good first half, quite frankly,” Thomson said.
“But I think the guys did a great job in the second half staying together, trying to execute and really working for some great shots.”
Lakehead (4-1) hosts Wilfrid Laurier (3-2) Saturday night. Tipping is at 8 p.m.