Men’s basketball fights to quarterfinals

It wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be, but the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks men’s basketball team came away with a win in their Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoff date with the Guelph Gryphons on Wednesday night.

Coming into the game, the 9-13 Gryphons seemed to be a mismatch for the Hawks, who finished 12 points ahead of their opponents from Guelph in the regular season, posting a record of 15-7. However, the Hawks got just about everything they could handle from the underdog Gryphons and had to claw their way to an 80-72 win.

“There was a couple points there with less than two minutes to go where I wasn’t sure we were coming out of this one on the right side,” said Laurier head coach Peter Campbell. “I thought Guelph played a great game, they’re always physical, they compete and I thought it was a good game and I was pleased with the way our kids battled back at the end.”

Early in the game, the Gryphons had the Hawks on their heels as they came out flying, — led by point guard Michael Petrella, who finished with 19 points — leading by as many as seven points in the first five minutes. However, thanks to some timely baskets from fourth-year star Kale Harrison, the Hawks chipped away at the lead and were up 24-23 after one quarter.

Guelph would respond in the second, out-scoring the Hawks 17-12 in the quarter, proving once again that they were a force to be reckoned with and led 40-36 at halftime.

“Guelph always comes out really gritty, we know they’re a tough team to play against, in my four years here I’ve never had an easy game against them,” said veteran Matt Buckley, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds on the night. “They’re really physical inside and they just know how to defend really well.”

The Hawks found themselves coming from behind for most of the second half, and with Laurier’s rookie stars Jamar Forde and Patrick Donnelly struggling, the Gryphons seemed poised for an upset.

However, that was when veterans such as Buckely, Harrison and second-year Max Allin stepped up and brought their team back. Harrison hit shot after shot to quietly bring his team back, while Buckley dominated the boards and Allin calmly ran the offence.

“It’s big for our veterans to step up in playoff time,” said Buckley. “It’s the first time a rookie gets to see how different it is, how physical it is and how the game changes.”

Led by their veterans, the Hawks dominated the opening of the fourth quarter, turning a one-point lead into a six-point lead in less than a minute. From there, the purple and gold would control the game, but the Gryphons weren’t going away.

And that’s when one of the Hawks rookie stars who’d been kept quiet for most of the game, showed up in a big way.

With Laurier up 76-72 and 16 seconds left on the clock, Petrella pulled up for a shot only to be rejected by an airborne Forde. The stand-out Laurier rookie then raced down the court onthe fast break and hit a layup, providing the dagger and sealing the Hawks’ win.

“I don’t think so,” laughed Forde when asked if he’s ever made a bigger play. “That was probably my first big play and I thought it might be kind of an exclamation point, but it’s only over when the clock runs out.”

And after the customary fouls that end any close basketball game, the clock did finally run out and the Golden Hawks found themselves headed to the OUA quarterfinals. There they will play the host Windsor Lancers, a team the Hawks went 0-2 against this season, losing by 33 points in their last meeting.

“Well we have to play better than we did last team we played them,” joked Campbell. “They’re a tough team to play, they’ve got a lot of parts, they’re very athletic, but we’ve got a chance, we played them fairly well [in Windsor on Feb. 5]…. If we keep building and play our best game we’ve got a good shot.”

The Hawks will take on the Lancers in Windsor this Saturday 7:00.

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