EDMONTON – Of Volodymyr Pluzhnikov’s 29 points for the UNBC Timberwolves on Friday night, his final four proved to be the most crucial.
The second-year guard from Kharkiv, Ukraine, calmly stood at the free-throw line and knocked down four straight shots in the final 18 seconds to seal at 78-75 win for UNBC over the homestanding MacEwan Griffins in Canada West men’s basketball action.
“He’s a really skilled player,” said Timberwolves head coach Todd Jordan, whose squad improves to 3-6 after the win. “He had a great night tonight and that’s what we kind of expect from him.”
The Griffins fought hard to stay within a bucket late as Ali Raza and Harrison Lane made back-to-back jump shots within the final 10 seconds. Trailing by three, Deonte Doslov-Doctor put up a would-be buzzer-beating trey on the run from the volleyball attack line that clanged off the rim and out.
“They did a great job of making shots when it mattered,” said MacEwan head coach Eric Magdanz, whose team falls to 1-6. “I thought we answered a couple of times, but it comes down to individual defence.
“They were able to create a number of good shots because they were able to get middle on us and I think that was the difference.”
UNBC’s offence was in fine form in the first quarter as they shot 55 per cent to put up 30 points.
But the Griffins made a defensive adjustment to hold them to just six in the second quarter – blanking Pluzhnikov and leading scorer James Agyeman – and went into the half up 38-36.
“I thought we really got stagnant in the second quarter,” said Jordan. “The ball started sticking a little bit and we had guys playing too much isolation ball. I thought we just moved the ball a lot better and shared it a lot better. We were able to find some snatches on things and get to the rim a little more in the second half. That helped us.”
UNBC and MacEwan traded leads down the stretch, but the Griffins were ultimately unable to find the defensive form that gave them such great success in the second quarter. If the young, inconsistent squad can bottle that …
“It’s who we really have to become,” said Magdanz. “We really took individual matchups personally and we did a great job of controlling the boards and limiting them to one shot. That led to transition points for us, which only helps.”
Third-year wing Raza narrowly missed another double-double, leading the Griffins with 23 points on 4-for-6 from the three-point line, while grabbing nine rebounds. Fourth-year forward Harrison Lane, coming back from a preseason injury, played his best game of the season, chipping in 14 points and a game-high two blocks in 25 minutes.
“It looks like Harrison’s rounding more into form and what we expect from him,” said Magdanz. “I thought we had a number of guys come off the bench and play fairly well for us tonight, so that was a welcome bonus.”
Besides Pluzhnikov, UNBC had two other players in double digits: Marcus MacKay had 16 points in 28 minutes off the bench, and Vaggelis Loukas bucketed 13 to go with eight rebounds. Agyeman, who was averaging 13.4 points coming into the contest, was held to just two on Friday.
“They came at us, they threw a couple different defences at us and did some things that kept us off balance a little bit,” said Jordan. “Eric’s doing a great job. He’s got a young group over there and they’re battling. Hopefully we come back tomorrow maybe get another one.”