PRINCE GEORGE - The Mount Royal Cougars came out firing Saturday night, pushing the pace and building a 22-9 lead in the first quarter before going on to defeat the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves 72-69 in men’s basketball action at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre.
Forward Josh Ross, fresh off a 19-point, 16-rebound, six-assist performance on Friday, tallied 13 points and four rebounds in the quarter on Saturday.
The Timberwolves bounced back in a big way in the second quarter, as fifth-year guard Rhys Elliott provided a spark off the bench. He scored 10 points in the quarter, and UNBC went on a 12-0 run to knot the game at 28. A Vaggelis Loukas jumper at the buzzer gave the T-Wolves a 33-30 advantage heading into the second half.
“We came out firing in the first quarter, but they came out in the second and handed it right back to us,” said Cougars guard Derek Wolf. “They came out and worked hard, and they shot the ball extremely well.”
The opening four minutes of the third quarter was much of the same for UNBC. A pair of Elliot Rowe three-pointers stretched the lead to 46-37. However, MRU returned fire, making three consecutive three-pointers of their own. A pair of those came from Wolf, making the game to 49-48 in favour of UNBC. At the end of the third, the TWolves clung to a 61-55 advantage.
UNBC guard Rhys Elliott, who battled the flu all week, said the Mount Royal size started to wear down the undersized Timberwolves.
“Our intensity was there, but we got into some foul trouble,” he said. “That kept our bigs on the bench, and they started to really outrebound us. I think that hurt us in the long run.”
Ross, along with post Brett Layton, wore down the Timberwolves early in the fourth. The Cougars hit the glass and earned put backs in the paint to develop a six-point lead with three minutes to go in the game. UNBC drew it to 72-69 with nine seconds remaining, but Marcus MacKay was unable to convert on a game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer.
“We switched up our defence in the fourth. We ran a zone defence, which we just started practicing this week to prepare for them. It came in clutch.”
Ross would finish the game with 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Layton pitched in with 13 points and 10 boards.
“They (Ross and Layton) make the team. They make my life so much easier,” said Wolf after the game. “They’re black holes, just grabbing all the rebounds. It’s a good combo.”
Elliott suggested the MRU post play was the difference.
“We are undersized, which means some of our guards have to guard up a position,” he said. “A guy like Ross is six-foot-four, but he plays like he is six-foot-seven. He backs us down and gets himself good looks at the rim.”
With the defeat, UNBC falls to 4-10, while the Cougars improve to 7-5 on the season.
The Timberwolves are heading into their bye week and will return to the hardwood in Winnipeg on Jan. 27 and Jan. 28 against the Manitoba Bisons. The Cougars are back home next weekend for games against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.