It’s been nearly eight years to the day since Dany Charlery poured in 23 points to lead the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team to a 78-76 victory over the University of Regina Cougars in Game 3 of their best-of-three Canada West conference quarter-final series.
Charlery’s efforts, plus 18 points off the bench from Eric Holm, vaulted BU into the conference’s final four tournament. It was also the last time the Wheat City hosted a playoff basketball game.
That changes tonight.
The eighth-seeded Bobcats, making their first playoff appearance since then, welcome the No. 9 Thompson Rivers University WolfPack to the Healthy Living Centre for a best-of-three play-in series that continues Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. Each game tips off at 7 o’clock.
"Being able to host here for the first time in eight years there’s definitely a buzz around the campus and we are definitely looking forward to putting on a good show," BU bench boss Gil Cheung said.
The two teams haven’t met since BU earned a 74-70 home win on Jan. 10, 2014. Brandon boasts a perfect 5-0 record at home against TRU and has won seven of the nine all-time meetings.
This year’s Bobcats rebounded from a 3-8 start to win six of their final nine regular-season contests to finish 9-11, the most wins they’ve had since going 13-9 in the aforementioned 2008-09 campaign.
"This is what we worked all year for," said six-foot-11 BU centre John Paul. "We stuck together as a team and right now we just want to go in there focused because we feel like we’ve gotten better at the right time."
BU clinched its spot in the post-season last weekend while on a bye. TRU (8-12) suffered a pair of losses in Regina and arrives in Brandon on a four-game slide.
The WolfPack and Mount Royal University Cougars finished tied for the 12th and final playoff spot with identical records — they didn’t face each other — but TRU advanced to the post-season based on a higher Rating Percentage Index (RPI).
TRU was bumped into the ninth seed via RPI but head coach Scott Clark still isn’t in favour of the new system.
"It’s an unbalanced schedule and now they’ve elected to have a playoff system based upon the RPI and that’s probably pretty hair-brained," he said. "I think it’s a silly playoff system. … I have no control over any of those things. The only thing we have control over is trying to do what we are supposed to do."
And that’s pick up two wins for a trip to play the top-seeded University of Calgary Dinos next weekend.
Thompson Rivers made it to the national championship tournament last season, losing 91-75 to the eventual champion Carleton University Ravens and 78-77 to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in Vancouver.
The WolfPack lost a lot of marquee pieces from last season but they still have six-foot-seven, 240-pound forward Volodymyr Iegorov, who is their offensive catalyst.
The fifth-year Ukrainian led TRU in points (18.3), rebounds (9.1), assists (3.5), blocks (1.3) per game and shot per cent from the charity stripe (84.9). His point total was sixth-best in the conference, while his free-throw shooting mark was second.
Slowing him down is essential for BU.
"He’s one of the best guys not just in Canada West but in the country," Cheung said of Iegorov. "He’s just a tough matchup, 6-7, 240, can play inside, can play outside. He’s definitely going to be the main focus for us and our job is to hopefully contain him and make things tough on him and be aware of where he is at all times."
Paul will likely be tasked with following Iegorov around the court when the Bobcats are in man-to-man defence.
"He’s very good and I believe we’ve been playing really good team defence and I feel like we are going to be ready to come together and slow him down and just keep ourselves in the game," Paul said.
The fourth-year Bexon, St. Lucia product — in his second season at BU — has found his game in the second semester, especially lately. Paul has averaged 11.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg over the last six games and he has been a big reason why Brandon is at home for the play-in round.
"It’s been hard work," Paul said before Thursday’s practice. "Having the dreams of doing this this year, it’s been a joy to be in this situation and go and (possibly) play for a championship."
Both teams shot 41.4 per cent from the floor during the regular season and were last and second-last in the 17-team conference shooting from three-point land. TRU was 16th at 29.8 per cent, while BU shot 29.1 per cent.
One advantage the WolfPack might have, especially in a tight game, is free-throw shooting. Led by Iegorov, TRU made 79.1 per cent of its foul shots, tops in Canada West, but only got to the line 321 times, second fewest in the conference. Brandon only drained 63.4 per cent of its 470 attempts, which was 15th in the conference. The Bobcats were the fourth-best team in getting to the line.
"That’s a weapon for them," Cheung said. "They get fouled a ton and they capitalize like no other team in the country. It’s definitely one of our goals to keep them off the foul-line."
But the great equalizer is always turnovers. BU committed 18.8 per game, while TRU committed 17.6, second- and third-most, respectively, in the regular season.
"Obviously turning the ball over is death so you have to try to limit that," Clark said.
TECHNICALS: Game 2, and if necessary Game 3, of the BU women’s team’s play-in series against the Trinity Western University Spartans in Langley, B.C., will air on the big screen at the HLC following the men’s games. Those contests tip off at 9 p.m. Thursday’s series opener was still in progress at press time.
BRANDON BOBCATS (8)
Tyvon Cooper (20 gp, 18.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.3 apg)
Earl Thompson Jr. (20 gp, 16.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Chris Stanhope (20 gp, 9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Offence: 76.6 ppg (13th)
Defence: 83.9 oppg (16th)
Rebounding: 41.8 rpg (4th)
Field goal percentage: 41.4 per cent (T-13th)
Three-point percentage: 29.1 per cent (17th)
Free throw percentage: 63.4 per cent (15th)
Turnovers: 18.8 per game (2nd most)
Steals: 7.1 spg (10th)
THOMPSON RIVERS WOLFPACK (9)
Volodymyr Iegorov (20 gp, 18.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.5 apg)
Joe Davis (20 gp, 11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Derek Rhodes (20 gp, 11.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Offence: 72.6 ppg (15th)
Defence: 79.0 oppg (9th)
Rebounding: 39.8 rpg (T-5th)
Field goal percentage: 41.4 per cent (T-13th)
Three-point percentage: 29.8 per cent (16th)
Free throw percentage: 79.1 per cent (1st)
Turnovers: 17.6 per game (3rd most)
Steals: 5.9 (15th)
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