Heat cages Timberwolves

The UBC-Okanagan Heat won the battle in the paint, leading to a 90-81 win over the UNBC Timberwolves on Friday in Kelowna.

In the opening quarter, the Heat gameplan was evident, as they moved the ball to the paint and put it in the hands of big man Owen Keyes. The six-foot-nine post was effective, scoring six points early on, chasing UNBC’s starting big Saymon Loki to the bench with two fouls. The Timberwolves responded, as veteran guard Vova Pluzhnikov found soft spots in the defense, scoring seven points as the Heat jumped out to a 21-17 lead.

In the second quarter it was the home team feeding off the energy of their crowd and the Heat took off on a 12-4 scoring run, fueled by Jacob Stokker and Imoudu Ibrahim’s slashes to the basket. Late in the frame, UNBC would settle down as they tried to cut into the deficit. Fareed Shittu, already known for his high-flying dunks and acrobatic finishes, made UNBC history in the second quarter. A free-throw gave him his 91st point of the season, passing teammate Tyrell Laing’s freshman record. At halftime, UBCO led 42-36, thanks to 10 points, seven rebounds, and two steals from Ibrahim.

“They were moving the ball around really well, using an inside outside game,” said UNBC’s Anthony Hokanson. “They were really effective rebounding the ball, which led to open looks.”

Todd Jordan’s Timberwolves knew they needed a better effort in the second half, but it was the Heat who looked more urgent. Keyes continued to push his way around the key, while Ibrahim got himself points off second-chance opportunities off offensive rebounds. UBCO stretched their lead to 16 points with three minutes to go, as the T-wolves struggled to get things going offensively. Laing responded, getting to the line for easy points as UNBC cut it to 64-56 after three.

In the final frame, the Heat went to what had made them successful. They repeatedly put the ball in the paint and crashed the glass, taking advantage of a T-wolves team lacking their starting post Spencer Ledoux, and without the services of Shittu who fouled out late in the third. With the lead back to 15 with five minutes remaining, UNBC would show some life. Two Chris Ross three-pointers and a Laing trey cut into the lead, but the Heat would answer on a big three from Philip Okanlawon. A Pluzhnikov three-pointer would have cut it to a one possession game, but the officials made a very questionable moving screen call to negate the jumper. That’s as close as UNBC would come , as time ran out and the Heat held on for a 90-81 win.

The game was won in the trenches, with the Heat winning the rebounding battle 43-25. They also had 18 offensive rebounds to the T-wolves’ four, while points in the paint was a 48-30 margin in favour of the victors.

“We really need to rebound the ball better tomorrow,” said Hokanson. “Defensively, we didn’t communicate nearly well enough, and they took advantage. Credit to them for making their shots, but we can’t give them those open looks and all those opportunities.”

Keyes was the leading scorer for UBC-O, with 24 points to go along with eight boards. Ibrahim had the double double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Okanlawon had 18 points, and Moallin added 10 points and eight assists.

For the Timberwolves, Laing scored a career-high 30 points, while Pluzhnikov added 16 points. Ross came off the bench and added 13 points and four rebounds.

“He is Tricky Ty. That’s what makes him effective,” said Hokanson about Laing. “He will shake you one way and then bake you the other. He is one of our offensive engines, and we are at our best when he is rolling. He was really good tonight, and we can’t waste performances like that.”

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