Bisons drub Wolves, end 24-year title drought
IT took seven years and a lot of heartbreakers to do it, but the Wesmen Classic’s men’s basketball title will be staying home in Manitoba this time.
On Wednesday night, the University of Manitoba Bisons stampeded over the Lakehead Thunderwolves, taking the 49th annual tournament’s final, 73-54.
That marks the first Wesmen Classic championship for Manitoba since 1991, and their eighth all-time.
It’s also the first time one of the three Manitoba-based CIS teams has won the tournament since 2008, when Brandon took it, and the first time a city team earned it since 2006, when the Wesmen won on home court.
For Bisons head coach Kirby Schepp, who won some Classics back when he was a Wesmen player and then assistant coach, it was an emotional ending.
“To be honest with you, when presentations were happening, I really had a lot of memories of winning that trophy as a player,” Schepp said. “I think it’s great for the tournament for local teams to win... it’s great that the local teams are doing well and helping to raise the level of basketball.”
As for the game, maybe it looked to an outsider like the Bisons always had it under control, but “it never feels like that” to a coach, Schepp said with a laugh. His team had clashed with Lakehead early in the pre-season, where the Thunderwolves from Thunder Bay twice dispatched a slightly undermanned team.
On Wednesday, with Manitoba healthy and riding a strong 6-2 conference start, the results looked, well, a whole lot different. Led by forward Brett Jewell, who racked up 12 points through just the first 20 minutes, Manitoba rolled a 37-24 lead into the halftime break.
Jewell would pick it right back up after the break, popping in a deuce to open the second half. He finished with 16 points, second-highest on the team. Schepp was pleased, always hoping to see the 6-7, fourth-year forward add a little more offence to his game.
He wasn’t the only sharpshooter on the Bisons, though.
Four Manitoba players finished with double-digit points.
Topping the list was high-flying guard Keith Omoerah, who was named tournament MVP. In addition to delivering 18 points and five rebounds for his team, he also cranked up the entertainment.
In the 27th minute, for instance, Omo- erah leaped up for a dunk that rattled the Duckworth Centre. Guard Ilarion Bonhomme followed that up seconds later with a silky layup that secured the Bisons a 16-point lead. Those electric moments brought the bustling crowd to their feet.
Offence wasn’t really the game story, though. Lakehead struggled to score, led by forward Bacarius Dinkins, who put up 16 points and grabbed eight boards, and by guard Alex Robichaud, with 11 points and six rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Bisons racked up 23 points off turnovers, while the Thunderwolves managed just four.
“That was probably one of our better defensive performances of the year,” Schepp said. “Lakehead is pretty explosive in the way they can shoot the ball and get it going. We really held them down.”
Now, the Bisons must get ready for conference action. Manitoba’s Canada West season continues Jan. 8 in British Columbia, where the Bisons will face the Victoria Vikes.
Earlier Wednesday, the Wesmen beat the Acadia Axemen 90-64 to clinch the tournament’s third-place title.
They were knocked out by Manitoba in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Manitoba’s Ilarion Bonhomme II (left) shoots over Lakehead’s Bacarius Dinkins.