LETHBRIDGE, AB – Led by Mike Pierzchala’s 31 points, the Lethbridge Pronghorn men’s basketball team drew first blood in the best-of-three play-in series with a 97-85 win over the Victoria Vikes.
Playing in their first home playoff game in 16 years, the Pronghorns stormed out of the gates to a 10-0 run but the visitors were scrappy all night and hung around until the fourth quarter, where the Pronghorns poured in 29 points to finally pull away from the Vikes to take game one.
“A great team effort, the guys really buckled down defensively in the fourth and were able to get some separation and get the pace of the game up,” said Lethbridge head coach Mike Hansen. “Mike and Elliott had a great night shooting the ball and punished them for staying in the zone.
“We will need the same effort tomorrow.”
Lethbridge native Pierzchala tied the Canada West playoff record for three pointers in a game with nine, missing only four shots from long range. Elliott Sentence also had a good shooting night, hitting five of nine from long range en route to 21 points and point guard Dejon Burdeaux was his typical all around all-star performer for the Pronghorns with 12 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals.
For the Vikes, Grant Sitton and Taylor Montgomery-Stinson each had 14 points, while Sitton added nine rebounds. Scott Kellum chipped in with 12 points and both Justin Kinnear and Hassan Abdullahi each had 10 in a losing cause.
“I don’t feel like we ever really go too much done defensively,” said Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp. “You just can’t give up that many points–I mean we scored enough points but we were really having a tough time slowing them down.
“That’s the bottom line… it’s defense.”
Early in the first, it looked like the Pronghorns would run away with game one, taking a 20-5 lead just past the midway mark of the opening quarter and on the strength of a scorching 56% shooting held a 26-14 lead at the first break.
The second quarter saw the Vikes come to life and slowly chip away at the Pronghorns lead, whittling the double digit lead back to a two possession game with five minutes to play and the comeback was complete with a Justin Kinnear bucket to tie the game at 40. However, Pierzchala drilled another three to put the ‘Horns back up and the home side carried a 48-40 lead into the break.
In the half, the Pronghorns were an impressive 10-19 from long range and overall shot the ball 48.6%. The Vikes were not far off, shooting 45.2% from the floor but were only 4-12 from behind the arc.
Again in the third, the Pronghorns were able to build a double digit lead only to see Victoria claw themselves back into the game, tying the game for a second time on a Taylor Montgomery-Stinson three-ball and Graeme Hyde-Lay gave the visitors their first lead of the game with just over 30 seconds to play in the quarter. Four consecutive free throws by the Pronghorns in the dying seconds put Lethbridge back up, but by only two (68-66) with 10 minutes to play.
With the outcome teetering back and forth in the final frame, the Pronghorns went on a 20-6 run to blow open a one-point game and sail to an important game one victory.
On the night, the Pronghorns were 48.6% from the field and hit exactly half of the three point attempts, going 16-32. The Vikes finished the night shooting 44.4% and out rebounded the Pronghorns 35-30.
Tip-off for game two of the best of three series goes tomorrow night at 7:00pm at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.
“We just can’t give up 100 points if we want any chance to win – that’s the bottom line,” said Beaucamp. We scored a ton tonight, we battled back in but when it’s all said and done we had 26 points against in the first and 29 in the fourth.”
UVIC: 14-30-22-19: 85
LETH: 26-22-20-29: 97
UVIC: Grant Sitton (14), Taylor Montgomery-Stinson (14), Scott Kellum (12)
LETH: Mike Pierzchala (31), Elliott Sentence (21), Dejon Burdeaux (12)