VANCOUVER – Vancouver native Tommy Nixon scored a career-high 36 points to vault the UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team to a 92-77 victory over the Lethbridge Pronghorns on Friday evening at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.
The visiting T-Birds exploded for 32 points in the third quarter to break the game open, never looking back to earn their third straight regular season victory dating back to November. The T-Birds have averaged just over 97 points in those three wins.
“It was a great team win but Tommy had a special game,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “More important than his points was his leadership. That’s what you need out of the seniors. Playing the same team back-to-back is always tough so we have start preparing ourselves for another battle tomorrow.”
A tight first half saw nine lead changes, but the Thunderbirds broke things open with a 16-2 run over a 4:42 span that bridged halftime. The teams were tied 34-34 with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter. Two Nixon foul shots began a game-changing surge that was capped off by an Andrew McGuinness (North Vancouver) jumper that made it 50-36 in favour of UBC two minutes into the third. After that, Lethbridge never got within single digits of the visitors.
Nixon finished the night with a double-double, collecting 11 rebounds in addition to his point total. He drained every shot he took in the first half.
The Thunderbirds remain in ninth in the Canada West Pioneer Division, but are just one win behind a group of five teams, all with five wins on the season.
Both teams had four players in double digits in scoring on Friday, as the Pronghorns had consistent offence from four of their five starters. Rob Olsen, who collected 21 points shooting 7-for-16 from the field, led the home team. UBC’s Tonner Jackson (Surrey) was just one rebound shy of a double-double grabbing nine rebounds to go with his 13 points. Conor Morgan (Victoria) chipped in with 12 points for the blue and gold.
Neither team gained a sizeable gap in the first quarter, though not the fault of Nixon as the fifth-year was on fire shooting 3-for-3 from the field and going 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Nixon had 11 of UBC’s first 17 points as the Thunderbirds led by one after the opening quarter.
Nixon continued to tear it up in the second quarter, maintaining perfection on field goals (6-for-6) and foul shots (8-for-8), finishing the half with 21 points to go along with five rebounds and a pair of assists. UBC’s next leading scorer at half time was Jackson, who collected nine points, while Jared Baker had 10 points for Lethbridge.
UBC carried an eight-point 44-36 lead over the home team through the midway point of both teams’ opening game of 2015.
The T-Birds hit exactly half of their 66 shots from the field on Friday night while the Pronghorns were 24-of-60 for a rate of 40 per cent. Both teams hit eight three-point shots, with Lethbridge needing 19 opportunities and UBC requiring 24. The ‘Birds out-rebounded the hosts 40-31.
After starting the season 5-2, the Pronghorns have now lost four straight and sit eighth in the Pioneer Division with a 5-6 record, one spot ahead of UBC at 4-5.
The Thunderbirds have historically been dominant in previous conference outings to start the new year. With Friday’s win, they have now won five of the past six games in their midseason debuts dating back to 2009.
Both teams hit the hard court again tomorrow night at 6 p.m. PT at the 1st Choice Savings Centre in Lethbridge, Alta.