An incredible first-half shooting performance powered the UNBC Timberwolves to victory over the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team on Saturday evening by a 101-91 score.
The host T-Wolves, coming off a 97-93 overtime win over the Cascades in Friday’s opener, were red-hot from the opening tip. They went a mind-bending 16-for-22 (72.7 per cent) from beyond the arc in the first half, and led 66-46 at the break.
UFV dug deep and made a second-half push behind strong offensive performances from forwards Mark Johnson and Sukhman Sandhu. After trailing by as many as 22 points, they cut the deficit to five (94-89) on Vick Toor’s steal and breakaway layup with 2:47 left in regulation.
But the T-Wolves responded with – what else? – a three-pointer, courtesy Anthony Hokanson, and they were able to fend off the Cascades in the dying minutes to secure the weekend sweep and even their record at 10-10.
The result officially eliminated the Cascades (5-13) from the Canada West playoff race, ending a streak of eight consecutive post-season appearances.
“It was a heck of a run, and that’s what I and the whole group plan on getting back to next year,” UFV head coach Adam Friesen said, reflecting on the end of the eight-season playoff streak. “Our halftime talk tonight was a lot about character, and if we think we have expectations for next year, it has to show in moments like this when things are tough.
“We have the talent, and a lot of the mistakes we’ve made that have cost us ballgames are due to youth and inexperience. The only way to build that is to go through a year like this. We have a smart, dedicated group, and I think next year we’re going to see the benefit of the lessons learned this year.”
Of the T-Wolves’ first-half shooting outburst, Friesen said he’d “never seen anything like that.”
“Senior Night can bring out some special performances,” he said with a wry chuckle. “They’re a really good team, but that shooting performance in the first half was incredible. But the way our guys responded in the second half, I was really proud of. We didn’t hang our heads – we understood what the first half was, and the guys stuck together and showed a lot of character.”
Johnson had an outstanding evening, racking up a game-high 34 points in exceedingly efficient fashion – 13-for-16 from the field, and 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. He added 13 rebounds and two assists for good measure. Sandhu also excelled, registering 19 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks off the bench. Toor chipped in with 12 points and five assists.
“Mark led the team to keep battling, and he did it with his work and his focus,” Friesen said of Johnson. “He kept us in it until the very end, and he hit a lot of shots.”
The T-Wolves never really cooled off from three-point range, hitting 21-of-36 attempts from distance. Seven UNBC players hit at least two shots from the land beyond, led by Jovan Leamy, whose team-high 28 points included five triples. Volodymyr Pluzhnikov (17 points), Daniel Stark (12) and James Agyeman (11) also scored in double figures for the hosts.
The Cascades basketball teams wrap up the Canada West regular season next weekend, hosting the Manitoba Bisons in a Friday-Saturday set at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre.