'Birds swoop in to snatch victory from Bisons

'Birds swoop in to snatch victory from Bisons

Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds

In a foul-filled battle of Canada West rivals, the UBC Thunderbirds fought back to narrowly defeat the Manitoba Bisons 75-72 at War Memorial Gym. 

Although it was tied after a sloppy first quarter, the Thunderbirds went into halftime down 34-27 and down a guard, with A.J. Holloway in the locker room after being ejected on his second unsporting foul. With Holloway out and Jalalpoor in foul trouble, UBC head coach Kevin Hanson called upon rookie guard Isaiah Familia to carry the load.

"We were down a few men with foul trouble and everything, so coach gave me the nod to start the second half. Even though I didn't finish with many points, my hope was to just to get after it on defence and get stops that can lead to offence." 

In the chaotically physical contest, Familia managed to reach his goal. 

"Over the years I've always played with older guys so I just try to maintain my confidence. It was great to get out there and play the whole second half." 

Conor Morgan was assessed his fourth foul and was forced to sit with 4:27 left in the third as Manitoba held a 47-39 lead. Although he only put up five points on the night, Will Ondrik's lone three-ball was the go-ahead tally to give his T-Birds a 52-50 edge over the Bisons near the end of the third quarter. Ondrik was big on the boards for the 'Birds, snatching a team-high eight rebounds.

Familia was fouled from beyond the arc a minute into the final frame, and hit two of his three foul shots to extend the lead to 58-50. 

As Manitoba began to mounting their late-game comeback, Jordan Jensen-Whyte came off the bench to score eight of his 16 points in the final nine minutes, adding two steals and two rebounds.

Morgan also re-entered the game with 4:41 remaining, and with the 'Birds up 71-70, pulled down a crucial offensive rebound – getting fouled in the process. Morgan had ice in his veins as he nailed both free throws with nine seconds left on the clock. The Bisons lost possession and fouled Jalalpoor, who sealed the deal with two free throws of his own.  

Jensen-Whyte knew his team could come back after a tough first half.  

"It was just energy, we feed off the guys on the bench and our shots started dropping. The one thing that kept us in that game was our defence in the first half. We have great guys, the rookies – [Isaiah] comes in and played his heart out. We need efforts like that." 

Isaiah, or "Zeke" to his teammates, was happy to get the two wins on home opening weekend.

"We had such a great turnout last night and even tonight, it's great to get the fan support." 

With three steals, five rebounds and five points in a season-high 27 minutes of action, Familia had an important person to share the night with. 

"Even though I'm from Ontario, my mom's up right now. It's probably 2 a.m. so I'll make sure to text her after the game." 

UBC improved to 4-0 in the early stages of the U Sport season and will head to Victoria next weekend for a home-and-home series with the Vikes. The Thunderbirds host Game 2 on Saturday at 2 p.m. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds