Griffins come within a whisper of first win of season but inconsistent play holds them back

Justace Byam had a strong game for the Griffins in his return to the lineup on Friday (Gerard Murray photo).
Justace Byam had a strong game for the Griffins in his return to the lineup on Friday (Gerard Murray photo).

Jason Hills 
For MacEwan Athletics 
EDMONTON – Lately, the MacEwan Griffins have been giving themselves a great shot to earn that elusive first 'W' of the season, but now they just need to find a way to close out games. 

The Griffins trailed for most of the game but fought back to take a lead in the fourth quarter against the Lethbridge Pronghorns but fell 85-80 Friday night at the David Atkinson Gym. 

Job Janda led MacEwan with 16 points and five rebounds, while Justace Byam recorded 12 points and six assists in his return to the lineup. 

Shae Gibb led Lethbridge with a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds), and Brady Pains chipped in with 17 points as Lethbridge improved to 3-12, while MacEwan fell to 0-13. 

"We turned the ball over too much, and we didn't play well enough defensively. We had some key turnovers at bad times, and we need to execute better. I thought we didn't get some stops and they got some easy buckets," said Griffins head coach Mike Connolly. 

"The inconsistency is killing us. We had opportunities, and we just didn't seize the opportunities." 

MacEwan got off to a bit of a slow start offensively, as they trailed 25-16 after the first quarter, but they battled hard in the second quarter to cut the Pronghorns lead to 43-41 at the half. 

They continued to stay right with Lethbridge in the second half. Marco Correas hit a deep three-pointer to make it 56-54, and Byam hit back-to-back floaters on two straight possessions near the end of the third to make it a two-point deficit going into the fourth quarter. 

The Griffins took their first lead early in the fourth when Thai Haak stole the ball at the top of the three-point line and then hit a pull-up jumper to make it 70-69 to give MacEwan their first lead, since they led 4-0 in the first quarter. 

Matthew Osunde followed up with a driving layup to make it 72-69, but then Lethbridge went on an 8-0 run and didn't relinquish the lead the rest of the way. 

"I think we came out a little slow, especially defensively, but once we got more in our groove, we started to do some good things, but we need to do a better job closing out games. Our last three games have been close, but it comes down to maturity and sticking together," said Byam. 

Byam hit a tough layup to make it 79-75 for Lethbridge, and then Haak nailed another jumper to make it 79-77. The Griffins had the momentum and were trying to get one more stop on defence and then try to take the lead, but rookie big-man Joseph Lemieux, who hails from Edmonton made arguably the biggest shot of his career, draining a corner three-pointer with 29.8 seconds left in the game. 

It was Lemieux's first three-pointer of the season. He was 0-for-9 previously. 

"That corner three killed it. It was the dagger," said Byam. 

"It stung, especially because on our scout we knew he wasn't someone that shoots the three, and that's what made it hurt more, because it came from someone who isn't known for shooting." 

MacEwan has made some big strides this year in search of their first win. They've battled hard the past two weeks, falling short, but Byam said the team must keep a positive mindset moving forward. 

"It's about having the resilience of not giving up. When you're in tough situations like this, you can't fold. We need to continue to have a positive mentality, continue to watch game film and keep trying to improve," said Byam. 

"We've proven we can play with a lot of these teams, but it's about sticking to it and that will make our first win even sweeter." 

MacEwan and Lethbridge will wrap up their weekend series on Saturday (3 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).