Underdog Hawks advance to OUA semi finals

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Justin Serresse and the Golden Hawks men’s basketball team are back in the semifinals for the second straight year after two big playoff victories this past week.

On the road in Kingston Wednesday night,  Laurier was able to defeat Queen’s in the first round of the OUA Wilson Cup Finals.

After beating Queen’s, Laurier made the long travel to Thunder Bay this past Saturday and battled out the eigth ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves, pulling off a four-point win.

After a hard-fought regular season with a slew of injuries, the Golden Hawks finished with a .500 record of 11-11; however, turned it on for the playoffs.

After a memorable post season run at home last year, the Golden Hawks were just shy of hosting a home playoff game this year and turned their attention to the road.

“I am glad we have been able to qualify for playoffs every season since I have been here. We were half a win away from hosting again this season, but we are looking forward to the challenge on the road,” Head Coach Justin Serresse said after the final regular season game against Waterloo.

Laurier headed into the playoffs with a fully healthy lineup, much to Serresse’s liking, and were ready for the challenge with a first-round rematch against the Queen’s Gaels.

The Gaels were able to beat Laurier earlier this month in a thrilling 89-87 overtime win in Kingston.

The Golden Hawks were expecting a physical game against the Gaels, and Justin Serresse stressed the importance of team defence.

“We want to make sure that we match that intensity, especially on the glass and with the 50/50 balls,” Serresse said of Queen’s.

In what was a back and forth game for most of the first half between the two teams, Laurier was able to pull away in the final two quarters.

Queen’s continued to score the ball with ease, matching Laurier’s pace and even making a run of their own to lead the game 47-42 at halftime.

However, with dominant team defence, holding the Gaels to 34 points in the second half and only 8 in the entire third quarter, Laurier had begun to pull ahead.   

First year forward Cole Syllas was able to lead the Gaels with 19 points but was shutdown in the second half by Laurier’s swarming defence. Syllas only accounted for 4 points in the entire second half after 15 in the first.

Ali Sow led the way for the Golden Hawks with a game high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists; however,  it was the clutch shooting of Adnan Begovic, who drove the Golden Hawks to victory in the final quarter.

Begovic who was held scoreless in the first three quarters of the game, was able to turn red hot, scoring 16 points for the Golden Hawks in the fourth quarter.

Many of these shots were go- ahead three-point shots and game clinching three-point shots as he was four from five shooting from beyond the arch in the quarter.

The clutch shooting by Begovic and improved team defence by the Golden Hawks had Laurier advancing to the second round of the OUA Playoffs on the strength of a 91-81 road victory.

The Golden Hawks were the only road team to win the first round of the Wilson Cup Playoffs and Coach Serresse and the players had turned their focus to the eighth ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves.

Far away from home in Thunder Bay, Laurier was facing a daunting task as the Thunderwolves had not lost in their home arena since October 26th of last year.

The CJ Sanders Fieldhouse in Thunder Bay is also one of the loudest and most intimidating gyms for a road team to play at.

Coach Serresse emphasized this point; “Just going there is so exciting because it’s one of the hardest tournaments in the country in terms of atmosphere. We’ve got Lakehead, we’ve got Laurentian. I don’t know any gyms that get loud like that,” Serresse said.

“It’s up to us to step up to the plate and face the challenge. Not a lot of teams over the years were able to win there, so going there with the confidence and if we come out with a win that would be a historic win, so I’m looking forward to that challenge,” he continued.

On Saturday night, Laurier was looking to beat Lakehead after losing earlier on in the season 99-77.

The defence continued to swarm Lakehead’s offensive weapons and Ali Sow led the way, while some Hawks stepped up big in the fourth quarter, as Laurier was able to pull off the upset in a similar win to the game before.

It’s up to us to step up to the plate and face the challenge. Not a lot of teams over the years were able to win there, so going there with the confidence and if we come out with a win that would be a historic win, so I’m looking forward to that challenge.

– Justin Serresse, Laurier men’s basketball coach

As a team, the Golden Hawks held the Thunderwolves to only 25 points in the second half and a combined field goal percentage of 36 per cent.

In a tough fought quarter-final matchup Ali Sow scored 27 points and Matt Minutillo made some big three pointers as Laurier pulled off an upset and advanced to the OUA Semifinals for a second straight year.

Coach Serresse pointed out the defensive efforts of Ntore Habimana, Kemel Archer and Romello Taylor as they were able to hold one of the leading scorers in the country, Isaiah Traylor, to 11 points while only making two shots on a combined twelve shots.

The defence pushed Laurier through to a 68-64 victory, but Ali Sow received honours for his dominant play this past week, as he was named OUA male athlete of the week as well as Laurier’s male athlete of the week.

Sow is in every right deserving as he has led the way the whole season for the Golden Hawks and this past week was no different.

Averaging  26.5 points per game in the two playoff contests, which puts him third in the playoffs thus far.

The Golden Hawks were once again the only road team to win in the second round of the playoffs, having completed the two upsets.

Laurier will now face off against one of their rivals, the Western Mustangs in the OUA Semifinals.

The Hawks will play the now eigth ranked team in the country, the Western Mustangs, who have beaten the Golden Hawks twice earlier this year and finished the regular season with a stellar record at 16 wins and six losses.

Justin Serresse noted the fact that the Golden Hawks were shorthanded in their earlier two matchups against the Mustangs this season.

The two losses were on back to back games and Laurier was without Ali Sow as well as Ntore Habimana, two key pieces.

“It’ll be interesting to see us play full strength against them. They caught us when we had a bunch of injuries, but we haven’t played them in a long time, so we are going to have to figure out what they’ve done since then,” Coach Serresse said about the Mustangs.

Coach Serresse did however, remind the team to not feel overconfident as the Mustangs have put together a fantastic season.

“As long as we stay committed and execute our game plan, we will be alright,” Serresse said.

Ottawa and Carleton, two of the best teams in the country, will face off in the other semifinals, as Laurier looks for a trip to play one of those teams in the OUA Wilson Cup Finals.

If Laurier is also able to beat Western, they will qualify for the USPORTS National Championships held in Ottawa in two weekends time.

The Golden Hawks are looking for some revenge after their semifinals’ loss to Ryerson last year.

The matchup will take place at Alumni Hall in London, Ontario on Wednesday night with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.!

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