HALIFAX (ISN) – In their first-ever Final 8 appearance, the fifth-seeded University of the Fraser Valley Cascades defeated the No. 4 Lakehead Thunderwolves 83-71 on Friday afternoon in the opening game of the 50th CIS men’s basketball championship, presented by Subway.
Championship website: http://english.cis-sic.ca/championships/mbkb/index
With the quarter-final win at the Metro Centre, the Cascades, Canada West finalists in only their sixth CIS season, advance to Saturday’s first national semifinal at 6 p.m. Atlantic, where they will face either top-seeded Carleton or No. 8 Acadia.
Lakehead, which received the at-large entry for the CIS tournament after being upset by Ryerson in the OUA semis, moves to the consolation side of the draw and will take on either Carleton or Acadia Saturday at noon AT. It marked the third first-round exit in as many years for the Thunderwolves at the Final 8.
Fourth-year guard Sheldon Bjorgaard of Abbotsford, B.C., paced the winners with 19 points, including 15 on 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range.
Kyle Grewal of Surrey, B.C., with 17 points, Joel Friesen of Abbotsford, with 13, and Mike James of Winnipeg, with 10, also scored in double figures for Fraser Valley. Six-foot-seven post Jasper Moedt of Abbotsford was a monster under the basket and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
The Cascades led 17-13 after the opening quarter, 34-29 at halftime and 58-51 after 30 minutes.
“There were definitely some nerves early on. Everybody was a little excited since this is our first time at Nationals,” said Bjorgaard, who was named player of the match for Fraser Valley. “But we settled in pretty quickly and did a good job following the game plan. We’re used to the pressure. We had so many close games in the Canada West playoffs.”
Fraser Valley beat Lethbridge at the buzzer in Game 3 of a best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series and edged Victoria by a single point in the conference semifinal to qualify for the Final 8.
“Sheldon is a fantastic shooter. Small guy with a big heart. He’s the heart and soul of our program,” said head coach Barnaby Craddock of his 5-foot-10 senior, the smallest player on the court in the tourney opener. “I’m really proud of the guys. They managed to step up in the first CIS championship game. Lakehead was a very good first-round opponent and the guys pulled it off.”
A pair of American-born players, Venzal Russell, an all-Canadian from Detroit, and Joseph Jones of Washington, scored 20 points apiece for Lakehead. Russell was voted the T-Wolves game-MVP, while Jones completed a double-double with 10 rebounds.
“It was still close with a few minutes left. I think we were down by only seven points. But we just couldn’t get the key stop in the final minutes, and we had trouble finishing all day offensively,” said Lakehead head coach Scott Morrison.
The two teams got off to a tentative start in opening quarter of the championship. The score was tied at 6-6, 8-8 and 11-11 before Fraser Valley closed the period with back-to-back three pointers by Jordan Blackman and Bjorgaard to take a 17-13 lead after 10 minutes of play.
The second quarter was as closely contested and featured seven lead changes. Down 28-27 with 2:33 left, the Cascades ended the half on a 7-1 run to head into the locker room with a 34-29 advantage.
Lakehead attempted a whopping 21 three-pointers in the half, making six of them, while Fraser Valley was 4-of-11 from beyond the arc after 20 minutes. Bjorgaard led all players at the break with nine points.
The Canada West silver medallists opened the second half with a 4-0 run to widen the gap to nine points and never looked back.
Bjorgaard pushed the lead to double digits with a pair of free throws that made it 51-41 with two minutes to go in the third frame. A James York basket one minute into the fourth made it a 12-point affair at 63-51, and Fraser Valley had its biggest lead of the afternoon with 3:33 remaining in the game, at 76-63, when Mike James scored on a layup.
Overall, the Cascades out-rebounded their rivals 56-48 and maintained a 44.6 field goal percentage, compared to 32.4 for Lakehead.
Points: Sheldon Bjorgaard (19), Kyle Grewal (17), Joel Friesen (13)
Rebounds: Jasper Moedt (14), Joel Friesen (7), Sheldon Bjorgaard (7)
Assists: James York (5)
Subway player of the game: Sheldon Bjorgaard
Points: Venzal Russell (20), Joseph Jones (20), Matthew Schmidt (11)
Rebounds: Yoosrie Salhia (11), Joseph Jones (10)
Assists: Yoosrie Salhia (3), Greg Carter (3), Matthew Schmidt (3)
Subway player of the game: Venzal Russell