Griffins unable to catch Pronghorns after slow start, falling 95-73 in final game of regular season

Jesse Trussler drives on Lethbridge's Chad Oviatt on Friday afternoon. He produced 13 points for the Griffins (Railene Hooper photo).
Jesse Trussler drives on Lethbridge's Chad Oviatt on Friday afternoon. He produced 13 points for the Griffins (Railene Hooper photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Unable to build momentum off one of their finest efforts of the season a night earlier, the MacEwan Griffins started slowly and never led once before falling 95-73 to the Lethbridge Pronghorns in their final regular season game of the Canada West men's basketball season Friday afternoon.

MacEwan trailed 16-2 less than seven minutes into the contest and chased the entire way – an all too familiar game script in 2021-22 in what will go down as a winless regular season (0-16) for the Griffins.

"We talked about being energized and engaged at the beginning and I didn't think we were engaged defensively," said MacEwan head coach Mike Connolly. "So, what happened is we missed some easy stuff.

"It wore on us today. Missing shots affected our defence and we've got to be mentally tougher to fight through and keep playing."

As they did on Thursday to put away a scrappy Griffins team by 14 points, the Pronghorns dominated the glass, outrebounding MacEwan 54-38 (and 19-10 on offensive boards).

Big men Chad Oviatt and Jeff Rodehutskors again came up huge for the visitors with 18 and 17 points, respectively.  Oviatt, the lone Edmontonian on the Lethbridge roster, completed a double-double for the second-straight game with a monster afternoon on the glass, grabbing 17 rebounds. Deng Dak added 11 points for the Pronghorns.

MacEwan was led by rookie Milan Jaksic, who produced a season-best 15 points, adding six rebounds.

"I thought he rebounded, which he wasn't doing last night," said Connolly. "But then he made shots. The difference was he took his shots in good situations and at the right time, so he wasn't forcing it. He let it come to him.

"That's one of our first-years. He's learning, he's growing, he's stressed. It's all a good thing. He made some shots and then he rebounds. He's a pretty athletic, tough kid, so he really did well."

Milan Jaksic, showed going against Jeff Rodehutskors in Thursday's game, led the Griffins with 15 points on Friday (Eduardo Perez photo).

Veteran Jesse Trussler added 13 points and six boards, while rookie Eric Lopez hit double digits (10 points) for the first time this season, adding four assists.

Ultimately, the Griffins did some good things in spurts, but youth and inexperience prevented them from staying with the Pronghorns for a whole game.

"There were times we had five possessions in a row where they never even got a shot. So, we did some good things," said Connolly, whose team closed the deficit to single digits a few times in the contest only to give costly runs, particularly at the end of the second and third quarters.

"Late in the second, we had it within 10 and were playing, but then we give up an offensive board and give up an easy jumper, uncontested," he added. "That's the thing they're learning. The guys are working hard, they're trying. That's tough to stay mentally tough when things aren't going your way and to stay with it. That's a lesson to learn."

With the win, Lethbridge will finish at .500 (8-8), locking up third place in the Central Division, and getting into the top nine in Canada West, which earns them a bye past the opening round of the March 3-5 playoff tournament where all teams are ranked 1-17.