David Larkins, Wesmen Athletics
WINNIPEG - Nate Johnson was feeling the love on Senior Night.
The lone fifth-year member of the Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball team was honoured prior to tip-off of what would turn out to be a 65-53 win over the UBC-Okanagan Heat Saturday night at the Duckworth Centre.
The victory secured a home playoff date for the Wesmen, who will go into the post-season as the No. 6 seed and face No. 11 UNBC in a play-in game next Thursday night.
Following Friday's win, teammate William Sesay said the Wesmen were rallying in Johnson's name, trying to string out a playoff run to prolong the Toronto native's final season.
"We're playing great, we're playing as a team and I feel like that's going to transfer over (to playoffs)," Johnson said after scoring 11 points and adding five rebounds in a starting role. "I feel like it's great that we're playing right away instead of getting the bye so that we can continue to build our momentum. … I feel like we're in a great spot."
Denzel Lynch-Blair led all Wesmen scorers with 12 points. Narcisse Ambanza added 11 and chipped in with seven rebounds. D.J. Dixon dropped 11 points off the bench for the Wesmen, who finished the season winning seven of their last eight to wrap the season at 10-10, their sixth straight season with at least a .500 record.
While the Wesmen let the Heat hang around in a win Friday night, they were more diligent in putting things away Saturday, holding UBCO to six points in the third quarter and stretching their lead to 53-39 on a Johnson jump shot 21 seconds into the fourth. Winnipeg's biggest lead was 19 points as they handed the Heat their 16th straight loss and a last-place finish.
Aldrich Berrios had 13 points to lead the Heat (2-18), while Triston Matthews and Philip Okanlawon had 12 apiece. Kyrin Cebenko had his second straight game-high for rebounds, grabbing 13.
The Wesmen have assured themselves, and Johnson, of one more home game. In a post-secondary journey that took him to two junior colleges before finding a home in Winnipeg, Johnson will relish the chance to extend it at least a few more days.
"It's been a long journey, a lot of ups and downs," Johnson said. "But throughout the years I learned how to persevere and fight through even though situations didn't go as I expected. This was a great life lesson to me."