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Bisons outlast Timberwolves in hard-fought battle

UNBC’s Micah Jesse takes a jump shot in an 98-87 loss to Manitoba. Jesse finished with 19 points to lead the Timberwolves. UNBC photo

The University of Manitoba Bisons maintained their place atop the Canada West men’s basketball standings, outlasted the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves 98-87 in a hard-fought game at the Northern Sport Centre.

The Bisons built a double-digit lead early in the third quarter only to see it evaporate as the Timberwolves clawed all the way back to take an 84-83 lead with less than four and a half minutes to play. But the Bisons first-place pedigree came through down the stretch as they connected from the line and from the field to retake the advantage move to 8-1 on the year. UNBC came into the contest on a three-game winning streak but fell to 5-4 on the season with the loss.

“It was a good team win,” Bisons forward Simon Hildebrandt said after the game. “I thought we really rallied late as a team and showed some good competitive stamina out there towards the end.”

With Manitoba up 10, a Fareed Shittu dunk, followed by a Micah Jesse three late in the third quarter got the crowd at the NSC rocking as the Timberwolves clawed back to within six. But an unconventional three-point play, a made free-throw, followed by a miss and offensive board and a put-back by the Bisons restored nine-point advantage after three quarters.

After the Bisons extended their lead early in the fourth, the Timberwolves came back once again. A Chris Ross triple cut the deficit to three and a quick turnover got the ball back in UNBC’s hands. Justin Sunga got to the line and connected on a pair of free throws to get within one. Another basket from Ross gave the Timberwolves their first lead of the second half.

The lead was shortlived. Hildebrandt, who finished with a game-high 27 points, connected on four of five free throw attempts to put the Bisons back in front 87-84. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“Manitoba is a good team, but I think during the game we showed that we can hang with them,” Sunga said, adding that transition defence and taking care of the ball down the stretch hurt the Timberwolves. “Our team is really hungry. We’re excited for Saturday.”

Jesse led the Timberwolves with 19 points, including going five of seven from long distance, but fouled out in the fourth quarter. Shittu’s athleticism was on display at both ends of the court as he scored 17 points, picked up five rebounds and blocked four shots. Sunga scored 12 for UNBC, while adding seven assists. Darren Hunter scored 11.

In addition to Hildebrandt, the Bisons got double-doubles from Isaac Miller-Jose (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Cieran O’Hara (10 points, 12 rebounds).

The Bisons controlled the boards, out rebounding the Timberwolves 50-30 and outscoring the home side in the paint 48-26.

“We’re a pretty big team, we start three big guys and we always have two big guys on the floor, so winning the boards was huge, especially against a team like this with two great big guys,” Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt was a force early for the Bisons, putting up 14 points in the opening 10 minutes. But UNBC answered with a balanced attack at the teams traded the lead 11 times during the quarter. After UNBC went up by one late, the Bisons’ Darren Watts beat the buzzer at the end of the frame to give the visitors a 24-23 lead.

The Timberwolves long-distance offence started to connect in the second quarter with five different players combining to connect on seven of 12 three-point attempts in the first half. But it was the Bisons who used a late second quarter run to build a 49-41 lead at the break.

The two teams are back at it on Saturday at the Northern Sport Centre. Tip off is 6 p.m.

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