The University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves let a fourth quarter lead slip away, falling 84-78 to the UBC Okanagan Heat on Saturday in Kelowna.
In the first quarter, the Timberwolves came out guns blazing, as Tyrell Laing and Vova Pluzhnikov were able to penetrate for buckets at the rim, or open looks for their teammates. UNBC was up 15-3, but the Heat made adjustments and started to make open shots. Hafith Moallin and Sebago Jean-Charles were the catalysts as the home team came storming back, knotting it 20-20 after ten minutes.
In the second stanza, the Timberwolves were without the services of veteran forward Anthony Hokanson, who suffered a lower body injury. That loss pressed young reserves like Dylon Matthews and Colburn Pearce into more minutes. They’d respond admirably, as UNBC traded baskets with the Heat through much of the quarter. Tyrell Laing and Moallin went toe to toe, as the dynamic guards each got to the hole and made shots from distance. At halftime, the TWolves led 38-33, with Laing providing 18 points. Moallin had seven for the Heat, to go along with two rebounds and two assists.
“Tony (Hokanson) is an excellent player and a great vocal leader and losing him hurt tonight. We’re hoping the damage is minimal and we can get him back ASAP,” said UNBC senior Saje Gosal, of his fellow veteran. “You miss a guy like that because of his steady hand down the stretch of games. That being said, Dylon, Colburn, and Chris stepped up in the minutes available and competed hard, doing everything they could to get us this win.”
Separation was tough to come by for both programs in the third quarter, as they took turns with small leads that would quickly evaporate. Freshman Fareed Shittu made his presence felt with a big block at one end and a pair of tough finishes at the other end for the Timberwolves, but the Heat’s inside duo of Owen Keyes and Imoudu Ibrahim did well to get it back for UBCO. Heading into the fourth quarter, UNBC was clinging to a 63-57 lead.
After playing just seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, UNBC guard Vova Pluzhnikov was making an impact much of the second half, braving the paint for tough finishes. The Ukrainian veteran stretched the TWolves’ lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter. However, Moallin and the Heat came storming back again as the second-year guard made a pair of long jumpers to make it a one point game with five minutes to go. A lid formed over the UBCO basket from there, as the TWolves were unable to convert on some golden opportunities, and the Heat took an eight point lead in the late stages. When the final buzzer sounded, UBCO had completed the sweep with a 84-78 win.
“UBCO came to compete this weekend and played with desperation. It’s a tough blow for us and our guys are feeling it right now,” said Gosal, postgame. “The good news for us is that our team is a brotherhood and a tight knit group, and adversity is an opportunity to come together. There is a lot of basketball left to play and we’re still sitting in a playoff spot.”
Moallin drove the bus for the Heat with a career high 28 points, to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Owen Keyes added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Philip Okanlawon had 13 points, five boards, and five assists.
For UNBC, Laing led the way with 27 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Vova Pluzhnikov had 20 points, six rebounds, and three dimes, while Fareed Shittu had 12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.The Heat will try to extend their winning streak next weekend against the Winnipeg Wesmen, while the TWolves look to get back on track at home against the visiting Brandon Bobcats.