HAMILTON, ON – It seems fitting the McMaster men’s basketball team’s opening playoff game was the Lakehead Thunderwolves.
Patrick Tatham and his squad opened the season with a pair of games at home against the Thunderwolves. They squandered a double-digit lead in their season opener, a game that offered a lot of lessons going forward. The Marauders finished with an 11-5 record, good for second in the OUA West.
Now, they faced a surging Lakehead again (winners of nine in a row coming in) at the Burridge Gym on Mar. 19 in the OUA quarterfinals. Like last time, they went out to a sizable lead. This time though, they didn’t let up, winning 94-82.
It was Lakehead who started the game on the front foot, creating opportunities with their speed and drives to the basket. Michael Okafor – who dropped 36 points in their playoff opener versus Waterloo – scored early by attacking the basket. Jared Kreiner added a three pointer and suddenly the visitors were up 9-5.
McMaster matched Lakehead’s tempo and shooting though, even bettering them as the game went along. It was a big night for many McMaster players.
Most notable was guard Mychael Paulo, who showed his prowess as a lanky wing player. Paulo created his own shot time and time again, scoring at the rim, in the mid-range and from three. He scored a game-high 29 points, including shooting five-for-eight from deep. The Toronto native even had a breakaway dunk that drew cheers from the crowd.
McMaster’s ability to push in transition, move the ball crisply and hit their threes caused problems for Lakehead as the second quarter went on. The Thunderwolves were unable to keep up with the Mac offence. The Marauders shot a strong 53.7 per cent overall from the field and 45.2 per cent from three compared to Lakehead’s numbers of 44 and 26.1 per cent.
Paulo and guard Sefa Otchere drained back-to-back threes to extend the lead to 41-30 as Mac took a 46-37 edge into halftime. The gap would only widen from there. Otchere picked up where he left off with another three while Mike Demagus hit one as well. Demagus has been one of the breakout players in the league and had another good performance with 18 points, three assists and four rebounds. Otchere’s 22 points marked a career-high for him.
While their leading scorer for the season Jordan Henry didn’t reach his season average, he made his presence known in other ways with his driving and playmaking. Often times, he would drive into the lane, sucking in defenders before swinging the ball outside to a shooter.
McMaster’s ability to pass the ball around to find the open player led to many open looks from deep. They had 21 assists to the Thunderwolves’ nine. One example of that was when Demagus and guard Tristan Lindo quickly whipped the ball back-and-forth between them before Demagus splashed a triple to push the lead up to 87-64.
The Thunderwolves made a late push to cut the lead down to around 12 points but their comeback efforts fell short. The players celebrated the win while Tatham and Lakehead head coach Ryan Thomson embraced each other afterwards.
Tatham’s team is now going on to the OUA West finals against the Brock Badgers. The good news: the Marauders have played the Badgers tough in both meetings this season, losing a close one in St. Catharines before handing Brock their only loss of the season three days later. Now, they are one win away from clinching a spot in the OUA finals and nationals.
Around the Wilson Cup playoffs: Carleton, Brock and Queen’s advance
The Badgers took care of business themselves, dispatching Ali Sow and the Laurier Golden Hawks in convincing fashion 82-58. As has been the case all season, they received contributions from multiple players with Isaiah Bujdoso, Kascius Small-Martin, Tajinder (TJ) Lall and Godsman Kwakwah all scoring in double digits. Bujdoso led the way with a career-high 17 points.
The Carleton Ravens and Rams rivalry has been an intense one in recent years, producing many memorable moments. The Rams aren’t as strong this year as before but they did give the Ravens fits at times in the game. Aaron Rhooms and Mouhamed Ndiaye combined for 24 of their 32 first-half points as they trailed Carleton 37-32 at halftime.
The Ravens weren’t able to truly pull away for most of the second half – the lead cut to four at one point in the fourth – but did hold on to prevail 87-68. Second-year standout forward Lloyd Pandi had a big night with a near triple-double (24 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists).
The upset of the night came across night in Montpetit Hall as the Queen’s Gaels edged the Ottawa Gee-Gees 59-55. The two sides were close throughout the game but the Gaels pulled away at the end, outscoring Ottawa 16-10 down the stretch. Two of their key contributors all season came up with strong performances. Quinton Gray had 20 points, five rebounds while Cole Syllas collected 17 points, 10 rebounds.
The Ravens will face the Gaels in a rematch of their regular season finale from just over a week ago. Carleton won both those games by scores of 86-46 and 94-75. The semi-finals will serve as essentially must-win games for the Gaels and Marauders to reach nationals, given the tight competition they face in terms of the at-large berth. Carleton and Brock though are in more favourable positions in regards to getting that berth should they lose in the semis.
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