TORONTO — Joseph Jones, who made a great first impression on Scott Morrison many moons ago, made sure Lakehead didn't miss its second chance.
In the game to go to nationals between the teams deprived of their stars, the Thunderwolves pulled away in the second half to beat the Windsor Lancers 78-64 in the OUA Wilson Cup bronze-medal game at Mattamy Athletic Centre, advancing to their fourth consecutive CIS Final 8. Led by 23 points from Jones, their fifth-year senior who is listed at 6-foot-2, looks about 6-foot and plays 6-5 when he's hitting the boards or drawing a bigger man as his defensive, Lakehead shot an effective 58.9 per cent (29-of-56, 8-of-19 on threes). That was enough to overcome getting outrebounded 20-4 on their own glass.
"We knew if we kept thinking about yesterday, we wouldn’t hit shots today," Jones said. "Our goal was to forget about it and just shoot our shot ... It’s very exciting. Six seniors, four years in a row going to nationals. We’re trying to go out on a high note and that’s a national championship.
"We have the deepest bench in the country. Everyone stepped up in the absence of Ryan Thomson."
The OUA West rivals were meeting for the third time, so it wasn't like there were many rabbits Scott Morrison could pull out of his Yankees hat. Whatever the reason, Lakehead was less affected by having Thomson on the bench in crutches than Windsor was with star guard Josh Collins gutting it out on his injured right ankle.
"Before the game I wrote four words on the board," Morrison said. "We didn’t talk much about X-and-Os. I wrote: ‘Toughness, confidence, teamwork and effort.’ I told them that for the majority of their careers, they’ve led the country in all four of those categories. I believe Carleton is the only team with more wins than us." (And, indeed, they have 106 wins vs. CIS opponents since 2009-10 and through today, second to Carleton's 127.)
"We got that effort and guys started believing. I knew J.J. was going to come play today."
Collins' limitations — give him a gold star for managing to play 11 minutes — shrouded everything Windsor did. The Lancers went to the boards early and often and their ball pressure was more than Greg Carter, Ben Johnson and Dwayne Harvey could handle at times. Yet those watching the game might end up with brows furrowed in a vain attempt to understand the situation: Fifteen Windsor offensive boards? Seventeen Lakehead turnovers? And the Thunderwolves still won by double digits?
"They adjusted much better than we did," Lancers coach Chris Oliver said. "They got some confidence early and went from there. We had a lot of guys turn down shots early and it had the opposite effect. Nobody ever played free on offence."
Along with Jones, Lakehead got big nights from guards Harvey (14 points on 5-of-8 from the field) and Johnson (11, including 3-of-7 from three).
Windsor's star forward, Lien Phillip, tried to rally the troops with a 15-point, 13-rebound, two-steal effort. But Yoosrie Salhia (seven points, seven rebounds) and fellow vet Matthew Schmidt stayed just on the legal side of physical in the post — mostly — and kept Phillip to 4-of-14. Everything Windsor got seemed to take more work than it should. That traced back to Collins not being himself.
"He’s the control for everything we do, the one that guides everybody, make sure everyone is spaced out on the floor," Phillip said.
The lesson of the day might be the value of fifth-year leaders. Lakehead's core of Carter, Johnson, Jones, Salhia, Schmidt and reserve big man Brendan King helped them shake off getting blown out by Carleton on Friday. In the spirit of mind, remember what season the lithe, limber big man Lien Phillips is embarking on; his week started with OUA recognition and ended with two consecutive losses.
"This is a lot of motivation," he said. "I'll take a lot out of this game, Losing two in a row hurts. Not getting where you want to be is motivation. I’ll be back, bigger and stronger, next year.
"As a university student, you’re trying to accomplish team success," he said. "You want to see everybody be happy. Not reaching that goal is disappointing for me. I got recognized with individual awards, but that doesn’t matter. That should come after team success."