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dated: 2022-11-20 09:41:10 .
9. Lakehead will move into the top 10 on Tuesday.
THUNDER BAY – The MVP chants have already started.
While the CJ Sanders Fieldhouse crowd may be slightly biased in favor of Michael Okafor, the Thunderwolves star will likely at least deserve to be part of the conversation if he plays at a similar level for the rest of the season.
Okafor had perhaps his best game yet for the Thunderwolves (5-1) on Saturday, the former NCAA player scoring a game-high 27 points and prompting Laurier Golden Hawks defenders to try to find a way to paint him on defense.
He also stretched and played well beyond his 6-foot-4 frame, grabbing 14 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass, and leading the No. 9-ranked Thunderwolves to their fifth win in six games this season against the pesky Golden Hawks 78-63 in CJ Sanders Fieldhouse.
This is a team that is starting to believe in itself – not that they didn’t have that confidence when camp broke up late last month.
“We’re trying to build something here, we’re trying to build a championship, we’re trying to go to a national championship, but I feel like the group of guys that we came back with with the chemistry that everybody has, something that’s different here,” he said of Okafor, who finished the game with 18 points in a blowout win over No. 2 Ottawa on Friday night.
“With coach Ryan (Thomson) doing a great job keeping us disciplined, I think we’re going to do something great.”
Okafor says it all starts in the locker room, where the players tell themselves – and confirm it during the game – that they have to be the best team on the floor, no matter who their opponent is.
“We cannot diminish the competition. So we came out in the first quarter and tried to hold the lead and we did that all four quarters, so I think that really pushed us forward,” Okafor said.
The Golden Hawks (3-3) took an early lead in the first quarter, but the Wolves stormed back to take a 17-12 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Okafor stopped and hit a 3-pointer, then hit one of two free throws late in the second to extend LU’s lead to 33-23, with Laurier trailing 35-26 at halftime.
They cut the lead to five with two straight layups to open the second half, but Laoui Msambya responded with a 3-pointer to restore Lakehead’s eight-point lead.
Coach Ryan Thomson said Okafor might get a lot of attention for his numbers, but fellow CEBL Msambya deserves equal credit for his efforts against the Golden Hawks.
“Mike played a great game, but I think it’s worth mentioning Laoui as well. He had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists. I mean, that’s pretty impressive, and to stay in single-digit turnovers as a group against a team that’s physical and irritating defensively is an accomplishment in itself,” Thomson said.
The T-Wolves led 50-38, but sent Laurier to the relief strip four straight penalties in the final minute of Game 3, twice after failing to control the glass on a missed free throw. The Hawks hit just three of eight, wore down a bit, but managed to stay within 10 and trailed 51-41 after three.
They cut it twice to eight in the fourth goal. Okafor and the Wolves were too far behind, the LU guard scoring nine points in the final quarter to secure the win and a chance to advance into the top-10 in Tuesday’s rankings.
The Thunderwolves bounce back at home against the Golden Hawks
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