Contributed by: Ryan Bird (@RBird99)
Sudbury, Ont. – The Laurentian men’s basketball team is shaking up the perception of the East Division one win at a time. After impressive streak of four straight wins on the road, the Voyageurs extended their stretch to five against the Toronto Varsity Blues at home last Friday, with their most lopsided victory of the year, 114-66. The next night, Laurentian came away with a spectacular win against the previously No. 1 Ryerson Rams, extending the streak to six in an 88-82 thriller and showing that the Voyageurs are very much peaking at the right time.
The Friday night contest against Toronto was an absolutely clinical performance by Laurentian. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the entire squad played suffocating defence, using an effective mix of man-to-man, zone, and full-court press throughout. As a result, Toronto was held to just 36.8% shooting from the field, while turning the ball over 19 times.
Where Laurentian’s dominance shone even brighter in this matchup, however, was on the offensive end. It was one of those nights where everything seemed to be falling, no matter which player had the ball in their hands. The home side shot 61% from the field and connected on 20 of their 34 three-point attempts. Ten out of the 11 players shot at least 50% from the field and five players reached double-digit scoring.
This game epitomizes the way Laurentian has been playing as of late and is a testament to why they seem to be turning the page after a slower start to their campaign.
Early in the season, it was clear Laurentian needed to bolster their secondary scoring and overall play around Kadre Gray (Toronto, Ont.) and that is exactly what has happened. The uptick in play may have originated from an increase in responsibility earlier in the season. Gray missed two games before Christmas break to join Team Canada overseas for a pair of FIBA qualifiers, and beyond this being a fantastic opportunity for the Toronto native, it also shows the recognition that the reigning OUA MVP’s incredible play has generated at a national level.
Without Gray in the lineup, the Voyageurs still proved victorious against Windsor rather handily and kept things close against a solid Western squad. Ever since this challenge, Laurentian has been finding scoring from the entire starting lineup, as well as off the bench. JD West (Midmay, Ont.), Anthony Iacoe (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), Josis Mikia-Thomas (Toronto, Ont.), and new high-flying starter Gaetan Chamand (Saint-Denis, REU), just to name a few, have all been making statements on the court, much to the chagrin of the rest of the OUA.
By no means is it a one-man show anymore. Laurentian now looks like a team locked and loaded on offence, sitting second in the OUA in three-point percentage, second in free-throw percentage, and fourth in points per game, but even with this much-needed boost in secondary scoring, fans were also reminded recently that Gray is still Gray and he has the unmatched ability to take over the game.
Case in point was his offensive onslaught against the nation’s (previously) top-ranked team.
At the end of the first half of that contest, it was looking like Ryerson would continue to dominate like they have all year, as they held Laurentian to just 33 points in the half en route to building a nine-point lead at the break.
Gray and the rest of the Laurentian lineup, however, would not let this opportunity slip away. The third-year star exploded for 31 points in the second half alone, which contributed to his 45-point output on the night (16-29 FG, 4-9 3PT, 9-10 FT). Just another day at the office for Gray and his ever-growing portfolio of dominance.
Just like their season as a whole, the two halves of this game were like night and day for the northern squad. While Laurentian started off with several missed shots (well below 40%) and allowed Ryerson to score with relative ease, the team came alive down the stretch to shoot over 60% from the field and limit the dangerous Ryerson offence when it mattered most. It all ended with a very impressive comeback win for Laurentian over a Ryerson team that has been great all year and with the best of the best looking to make their mark on the postseason in a week’s time, there is no better time for the team to be peaking.
If Laurentian can find a way to take down Ottawa and Carleton in the final regular season weekend – the last two stops in the immensely difficult final stretch for the Voyageurs – they will lock down the third playoff seed and find themselves right in the thick of championship contention. And with an elite-level talent like Gray and a continuously-developing supporting cast, anything can happen as the second season approaches.
Certainly, Gray has led this team to new heights since his arrival, but now with a confident and productive lineup around him, Laurentian will be shooting to maintain their top-tier play into the playoffs and beyond.