Arron Lia, Pronghorn Athletics
LETHBRIDGE, Alta - Following a convincing 108-69 win in Calgary to open their weekend series, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns let the Mount Royal Cougars hang around and it turned out to cost them as the Cougars fought toe-to-toe in a frenetic nail-biter coming out on top 104-103 in the final seconds.
The game would come down to the wire, with the 'Horns leading 103-99 with just eighteen seconds to play. A crafty call on the inbound play would see the Cougars score a quick two, leading to an immediate foul. Pronghorn Brett Warren would miss both free throws for the 'Horns, opening the door for Mount Royal. On the ensuing possession, Glen Yang would play hero for his team, as he would come up big for his team, sinking a tough three pointer to put his team up by one point with 2.3 seconds remaining. The Horns would be unable to get a shot off on the final possession, as the Cougars took a 104-103 victory to split the weekend series with the 'Horns.
Momentum was a big story in the game, with both teams unable to gain a sizeable advantage over the other throughout the game.
Whereas the Pronghorns seemed to be in control of the game heading into halftime with a 58-49 lead, the Cougars stormed back outscoring Lethbridge 35-25 to take a one point lead into the fourth quarter.
As was characteristic in the second half, just as it seemed that one team was building momentum, the other would come storming back. With neither team able to open up a sizeable lead in the final quarter, each possession became of utmost importance in the final minutes. With the 'Horns up 97-94 with four minutes to play, a key defensive play by the Cougars saw them convert a steal into free throws. Taylor Quinn would convert both, trimming the 'Horns lead to one. The ensuing possessions for both teams would result in fouls, with both teams splitting their fouls, keeping the Lethbridge lead at one.
A key inbound with 2:45 remaining would see the 'Horns be called on an out of bounds violation, which would turn into free throws for the Cougars. They would miss both, keeping the 'Horns lead at one. Following another turnover by the Pronghorns, the Cougars would once again turn their possession into free throws, but this time, they would make both to open a one point lead of their own. Zac Overwater would quickly answer, putting Lethbridge back up by one point. A couple of miscues by the Cougars would lead to the 'Horns shooting four free throws, and sinking three, to take a four point lead with 20 seconds remaining.
The 'Horns were led by a quartet in double figures. Kyle Peterson would lead the way with 20 points on a sharp 8 of 10 shooting, with Mike Pierzchala, Colton Gibb, and Eric Pierce all chipping in with 19, 11, and 15 points apiece.
Matthew Guinto of the visitor's would lead all scorers with an impressive 26 points on 8 of 14 shooting. The Cougars would also see contributions from John Hegwood who posted a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), while Quinn Taylor and Glen Yang would also score in double figures.
An explosive first quarter would see the teams trade blows back-and-forth. A three by Mike Pierzchala on the opening possession would energize the crowd at the 1st Choice Savings Center and set the tone for the first quarter. Both teams would prioritize the three point shot early on, with the 'Horns finding success on 6 of 10 of their treys, and the Cougars 4 of their 8. Despite the heavy utilization of the three ball, both teams would use an active defense to fuel a strong transition game, leading to a frantic pace. The teams would combine for thirteen turnovers, while the Cougars would force five steals, to Lethbridge's two.
The second quarter would see Mount Royal heat up from three early. After a quick three from fifth-year senior Charn Gill, third-year Matthew Guinto would follow with a three of his own to put Mount Royal up by four. The Horns would battle back, finding an answer to each of the Cougars' next possessions. Lethbridge would get contributions from many of their key players to keep them in the game. Mike Pierzchala, Colton Gibb, Brett Warren, Zach Overwater, and Kyle Peterson would all make big plays for the Lethbridge in the quarter. Eric Pierce would make his mark late in the quarter scoring seven Lethbridge points in a row. Pierce would finish the quarter with a dime, finding a wide open Mike Pierzchala as Lethbridge would take a 58-49 lead into halftime.
The third quarter would start slow, with both teams struggling with their shooting stroke. Minutes into the frame, the Cougars would begin to push the pace utilizing a frantic transition game to score to trim the Pronghorns lead to one, 68-67. Lethbridge would up their tempo to match Mount Royal, leading to a high-scoring third quarter. Both teams would begin to push the ball up the floor each time they rebounded the ball, as the Cougars took a 84 to 83 lead into the fourth quarter. The Cougars would bounce back from shooting 17 of 42 in the first half, to an efficient 15 of 22 in the third quarter. The 'Horns would drop in productivity, shooting 9 of 17 in the frame. Mount Royal would outscore the home team 35-25 in the quarter.
The 'Horns started the fourth quarter with a bang, applying heavy pressure to the Cougars on the defensive end. This seemingly stifled the Cougars offense, and created opportunities for the 'Horns as they open up a five point lead minutes into the fourth. The fourth frame was played with the same tantalizing energy as the third, as both teams traded baskets, with the game coming down to the final minute. A heartbreaking ending would see the 'Horns drop a 104-103 decision.
The Pronghorns will stay at home next weekend as they host the University of Victoria Vikes in a matchup with playoff implications. As of tonight's matchup, Lethbridge sat in eighth place in the Canada West standings while the Vikes sat in twelfth. The top twelve teams in the conference make the playoffs. Friday tip-off is set for 8pm MT time, with the Saturday rematch taking place at 7pm MT. The Cougars will return home to Calgary as they host the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Photo by: MPP Photography