Men's basketball sweeps weekend series over top conference team

The Thunderbirds took on the University of Manitoba Bisons at War Memorial Gymnasium over the weekend. Both games were tight, but the T-Birds rallied to walk away with an 85–76 win on Friday and a 93–90 win on Saturday.

Coming into the weekend, the Bisons were the only team in Canada West with double digit wins, sporting a 10–2 record, and it’s clear the ‘Birds welcomed the challenge right out of the gate.

Friday’s matchup saw a perfectly executed first half of basketball for the T-Birds. Through great ball movement on offence and limiting open looks on defence, the Birds secured a 19-point lead going into the half. This action was highlighted by Tobi Akinkunmi’s hot hand, as he connected on three three-pointers.

The Thunderbirds would continue to keep their foot on the gas throughout the third, entering the final frame with a 21-point lead. However, in the fourth quarter, the script flipped. The Bisons started sinking a barrage of three-pointers, which dwindled the lead down to only six with less than five minutes remaining.

Just as momentum seemed to be swinging in the Bisons favour, Akinkunmi responded with a corner three, extending the lead back up to nine. This energized the team as things kept clicking for the ‘Birds offensively for the remainder of the game, securing the win.

“[Akinkunmi is] such a big spark for us. He’s an intense human being no matter what he does in the world … and we feed off that energy,” said head coach Kevin Hanson. “Every guy on the team loves him and so when he hit that shot, everyone’s feeling good and gains confidence.”

The following matchup saw a back-and-forth, rollercoaster of a game, and this was showcased in the opening minutes. The 'Birds kicked it off with an 8–2 run, while the Bisons responded with a run of their own, scoring the next 11 points.

A pair of threes in back-to-back possessions for the Bisons extended their lead to 12 to kick off the second quarter. It seemed things were slipping away from the ‘Birds until the latter half of the frame, when rookie Adam Olsen checked in and exploded for 17 points in the remaining seven minutes, connecting on four three-pointers. This jaw dropping performance shrunk the Bison lead down to just three going into the break.

Coming out of halftime, the ‘Birds quickly took the lead back for the first time since the beginning of the first. Both teams exchanged blows back and forth resulting in constant lead changes.

Another Olsen three-pointer in the fourth brought the T-Bird lead up to six, and they would maintain a firm hold on the game until the dying minutes, where the Bisons showed they weren’t finished. With just under 40 seconds left, the visitors sank a triple to make it a one position game. But the ‘Birds were able to fend off the pressure and pulled away with the win.

“When someone rallies like that, the whole team gets behind [it],” said Hanson about Olsen’s second quarter scoring outburst. “That’s why we brought him in … he’s a special player at that height [with] his ability to shoot the ball … he’s certainly someone in our rotation who’s going to get a lot of time as we move forward.”

The Thunderbirds look to extend their six-game winning streak on the road as they take on the UNBC Timberwolves for a two-game series on January 19 and 20.