Thunderbirds defeat Regina to clinch playoff berth

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Regina, SK – Backed by Tommy Nixon‘s terrific outing, the UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team clinched a playoff berth with a 76-64 victory over the Regina Cougars on Friday. Nixon put up 27 points, including a team record 14-for-14 from the free throw line, as the visiting T-Birds limited the Cougars to just eight fourth-quarter points to cruise to victory.
 
In addition to his 27-point performance, Nixon also had a season high 15 rebounds on Friday, as the fifth-year senior increased his scoring average to a healthy 22.1 points per game, best in the conference. Nixon’s free throw totals ties him with UBC alumnus JD Jackson and Kyle Russell for the team record for single game free throw percentage, 100%.
 
The win gives the 11-6 Thunderbirds a four-game cushion over the Cougars, who fall to 7-10 and are the brink of elimination with just three games remaining on the schedule. Meanwhile, UBC maintains its fifth place position and with a game in hand over two of the top four teams in the Canada West, can improve its playoff positioning over the next three games.
 
In what became a game within the game, Nixon went head-to-head with Regina’s Jonathan Tull, Canada West’s second leading scorer, who also had a great night, to the tune of 26 points and nine rebounds. Jonathon’s brother, Brandon, had 14 points and was the Cougar’s next leading scorer as the Tull duo accounted for nearly two-thirds of the team’s scoring.
 
After being down by two points in the opening quarter, UBC tore up the Cougars defense in the second, and held their opponents to just 29 points in the second half. Kedar Wright was UBC’s second leading scorer with 15 points while Tonner Jackson collected a double double on the night with 10 points, and 10 boards.
 
Regina had the hometown advantage through the opening quarter up 22-20 over the T-Birds thanks to the Tull brother tandem. The pair of Ajax, Ontario natives had 17 of Regina’s 22 first quarter points as Jonathan collected 13 while Brandon had four.  Meanwhile, Nixon had 11 first quarter points with seven of those coming from the free throw line (7-for-7).
                                                                                    
The Thunderbirds outscored the Cougars by double digits in the second quarter, with a 23-13 margin leading to a 43-35 by halftime. Despite shooting below 40% in the opening half, the UBC grabbed 25 boards in the half and nabbed 20 points in the paint.  UBC’s Wright finished the half with a formidable 13 points, trailing only Nixon, who had 16, and Jonathan Tull’s 17 first-half points.
 
The Cougars cut that lead to a one-possession, 57-54 deficit, but an untimely foul against Nixon, aka Mr. Automatic, at the 2:03 mark of the third proved costly. With one second remaining on the shot clock, Nixon was fouled from three-point range and converted on all three free throws, a lead that would increase over the remainder of the game. With a 61-56 lead through three quarters, UBC more than doubled that lead in the fourth to win by 12 points.

“Tonight’s game was ugly but we managed to grind out the win,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “We did just enough to win but it shows we have a long way to go. On offence we were very stagnant and didn’t have enough movement off the ball. We did a poor job of penetrating and finding teammates. The 14 assists is very low and not near where we have been in recent weeks. We also gave them far too many points off of our turnovers. We have to take care of the ball better tomorrow. In three of the quarters we rebounded well defensively, but in the third quarter we gave up eight offensive rebounds and that led to big quarter for them. We will focus on being better tomorrow night.”
 
Conceding a season-low eight points to the opponent never hurts ones chances to win, and the timing couldn’t have been better as UBC managed just 15 points in the final quarter. With such a low scoring quarter, the game finished in a relatively unfamiliar way as UBC’s previous two games were decided in the final moments.
 
UBC finished the contest shooting 26-for-65 (40.0%) while Regina was 22-for-65 (33.8%). The 64-point output by Regina was its third consecutive game with less than 65 points, while being UBC’s best defensive performance in terms of opposition scoring.
 
The two teams square off again tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. PST at the CKHS in Regina, Saskatchewan.