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Tirrell, Timberwolves come up short in gritty battle with T-Birds

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UNBC – The UNBC Timberwolves clawed until the final minute, eventually falling short of the reigning Canada West champions, losing a tough 85-76 battle to the UBC Thunderbirds on Friday in Prince George.

In the opening frame, it was the T-Birds coming out the more efficient team, shooting 52.9 percent and turning it over just once. The TWolves turned it over five times, but used a pair of Rohtash Mattu three-pointers to buoy themselves against a dangerous UBC program. After ten minutes, UBC was up 24-17, led by Kyle Foreman with six points, and seven players on the roster hitting the scoresheet.

In the second quarter, the Thunderbirds continued to pressure UNBC leading scorer Tyrell Laing, as Grant Audu gave the Canada West scoring champion considerable trouble with his size and athleticism on the defensive end. This meant other TWolves would need to step up, and Todd Jordan found contributions from big man Spencer Ledoux and guard Payton Tirrell. Ledoux made a trio of buckets inside, while Tirrell chipped in with five points and two boards off the bench. Sharpshooting guard James Woods had an answer for UBC, however, chipping in with seven points in the frame, as the visitors held a 46-37 advantage at halftime.

The third quarter looked eerily similar to the second frame, as the teams traded baskets, and the TWolves struggled to cut into the deficit established in the first quarter. Despite the T-Birds’ pedigree, however, UNBC didn’t back down, led by Tirrell, Vova Pluzhnikov, and Chris Ross, who all scored five points in the quarter. Audu and Woods each went three-for-four in the frame for UBC, as the Thunderbirds edged the Timberwolves 22-21 in the ten minutes.

Some history was made in the quarter, when Pluzhnikov found Ledoux for a layup inside, giving him 214 career assists. The helper propelled him past James Agyeman for first in UNBC’s Canada West history.

In the fourth quarter, Tirrell continued to play well off the bench, making a pair of jumpers to cut the deficit to just five points. However, Audu made a pair of jumpers, and Sukhman Sandhu buried a trey to reestablish the UBC lead in the dying minutes. A Pluzhnikov three with less than a minute remaining made it a five-point game, however the Timberwolves would run out of time, falling 85-76.

“Some guys stepped up. Woods hit some big shots and G stepped it up,” said Foreman. “We gave up too many opportunities. We know Tyrell wanted to get going, and we wanted to shut him down. We did that pretty good job overall, but some of their other guys stepped up. We came together at the end, but hopefully next game we close out a little bit better.”

More UNBC history was made in the fourth quarter, when a Tyrell Laing free-throw made him the highest scoring TWolf in the school’s Canada West history. The Prince George product received an ovation from the hometown crowd, as his 935th point vaulted him past Rhys Elliott for top spot.

“It’s awesome. It is an honour to be able to do it,” said Laing. “I was just trying to get a win. At the end of the day, I want to be known for being one of those dudes who brought the program to heights that have never been reached before. I am still in pursuit of that.”

“If I was to ask the freshman version of myself if I was ever going to be doing what I am doing, I probably wouldn’t believe myself, or anyone who told me that. That’s pretty cool. I am just blessed to have the opportunity to do it.”

James Woods had 22 points and four rebounds to lead the Thunderbirds offensively, but it was Foreman who filled the stat sheet. The guard had 12 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, and seven steals. Sandhu had a 14-point, 12-rebound double double, while Audu had 14 points.

“The team wants me to be a facilitator, and I take it upon myself to do it all,” said Foreman, postgame. “If it’s getting buckets, I can do that. But I want to get the guys involved. See who is hot, and get everyone touches. We are a balanced team, and we proved that tonight.”

For UNBC, Tirrell had 20 points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Pluzhnikov was strong, with 16 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. Ledoux added 13 points, while Laing had 10 points and five assists.

“I am always trying to get everyone involved, but I think I have actually been doing that a little too much. I think I have been a little bit too unselfish,” said Tirrell. “I was trying to be aggressive, get to the rim, and make them guard me. I came off the bench and saw how they were guarding Tyrell. They weren’t helping off him at all. I knew if I could beta my man, I could get what I wanted. If the shot was open, I was taking it.”

“We did a pretty good job tonight, but tomorrow we have to do a better job rebounding and defensively early,” said Tirrell, postgame. “That first quarter, some of their guys got comfortable. They were getting open shots and feeling good about themselves, which made it harder at the end of the game. If we can have that intensity at the beginning, I think we will be alright tomorrow.”

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