Heading into their back-to-back against the Badgers, the No. 8 Lakehead Thunderwolves were riding a four-game win streak — their only loss coming against McMaster back in October. It would be Brock’s first chance to compete against a nationally ranked team this year (McMaster is now No. 10 but wasn’t ranked when they played Brock).
The first game saw the Wolves escape with a 74-73 win behind forward Lock Lam’s seven points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots, along with 14 points and five assists from freshman guard Laoui Msamby and 16 points off the bench from Alston Harris.
The Badgers got 20 points out of Kascius Small-Martin, 18 from Godsman Kwakwah and a 13-point, 11-rebound effort from Daniel Cayer, but as a team shot just 6-16 from the free throw line. Cayer went 1-6.
“You make even half of the free throws we missed, that’s the game right there,” said Kwakwah. “We lost on the rebounding side, they out rebounded us by 14, so we just have to keep them off the boards and hit free throws and we’ll be fine.”
Even with all the missed free throws, the Badgers still had a chance to win it late in the fourth. After a Small-Martin three brought it within one, the T-Wolves’ Isaiah Traylor turned the ball over on the inbound, giving Brock possession for the final play. A Tyler Brown drive was met by the twin-towers of 6’9 Lock Lam and 6’8 Eric Gonzalez, who contested the tough shot that ultimately sealed the game after Gonzalez secured both the rebound and the win.
“That was huge,” said Traylor when speaking of the final play. “[Gonzalez] saved me because I turned the ball over at the end. That’s how it works, we help each other when one of us is down.
The bench played extremely well too, even though it wasn’t a good night for me, a win’s a win.”
Traylor, who previously played for the NCAA Division I Stephen F. Austin Jacks, came into this past weekend as the fifth-highest scorer in the league, averaging better than 22 points a game. The Badgers held the Mississippi native to just 24 points over the course of two games off an ugly 5-30 shooting, including 2-19 from three.
Badgers’ head coach Willy Manigat attributes the sound job on Traylor to a team effort.
“Just team defence, just five guys focusing on where he’s at at all times and talking to each other, making it difficult for their main guys. Honestly our gameplan at all times is to force the [non-scorers] on the other team to be the ones to score for them.”
The Badgers were able to bounce back and pick up the 75-68 win the following night, largely thanks to a career-high 15 points from Noah LaPierre, who came off the bench and hit five threes in 33 minutes. Small-Martin once again led the Badgers in scoring with a season-best 21 points, including four made threes. It was the first time in Small-Martin’s career he’s put up consecutive 20-point nights.
“That’s my roommate, that’s been my guy since day one at Brock,” said LaPierre when speaking of Small-Martin. “He made some big plays down the stretch. I’ve always said that this guy has been talented since day one and I feel as though it’s his time now. He’s taking that step forward and I think he can become a 20-point scorer in this league.”
LaPierre hit eight threes over the weekend and has continued to provide a spark off the bench when his number is called upon.
“I just try to bring the energy off the bench,” said LaPierre. “I’m a high energy guy and I feel as though I can make plays and influence the game off the bench. I kind of look at a guy like Fred VanVleet as an inspiration; this guy was a significant part of that Raptors team that made a run and I feel as though to go far and be successful you need to be deep, so I’m just trying to contribute to that bench unit.”
“Noah’s a sniper,” said Kwakwah. “He just stays ready and every time he comes in he’s confident.”
While the offensive side of his game was at its peak, Manigat was still not entirely pleased with some of LaPierre’s decisions on defence, most notably some of the switches, or lack thereof, on the high horns screens Lakehead was setting.
“We have a gameplan and guys just have to stick to that gameplan. It’s just us sticking to our principles and our fundamentals and that’s what I wasn’t happy about. We weren’t doing what we talked about doing. As long as we do what we do then we’re happy with the position we put ourselves in,” said Manigat.
“I have a long way to go on defence, but I feel as though with my athleticism and quickness I can become a better defender,” said LaPierre. “I think Willy recognizes that and holds me to a high standard so I’m looking forward to continuing to improve on the defensive end.”
The Badgers will head out on the road to face the 3-4 Nipissing Lakers this Friday, before travelling to Waterloo to take on the 4-4 Laurier Golden Hawks on Saturday. They won’t play another home game until the new year.