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Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018
Impressive road trip adds to L.U. basketball resume
by Randy Pascal

One would have to think that the Laurentian Voyageurs men's basketball team have pretty much silenced all critics by this point in the season.

Following a remarkable first half in which the blue and gold won eight of their first nine games, losing only to the Brock Badgers (currently ranked second in the country), many were undoubtedly curious to see how the team would navigate matters in 2018, within their own division, a top-ended loaded group that includes the Carleton Ravens, Ottawa Gee Gees and Ryerson Rams.

After needing overtime to slip past the Queen's Gaels (9-7) 71-70, the Voyageurs looked substantially sharper in bouncing the Rams (11-5) 88-83 within the friendly confines of the Ben Avery Gym.

Kadre Gray (26 pts), Nelson Yengue (18) and David Aromolaran and J.D. West (12 each) paced the Laurentian attack, as the homeside spotted Ryerson a 47-39 lead at the half, and 63-56 advantage after three quarters before pulling away in the final ten minutes.

Carrying the momentum into their Saturday night encountered, the Voyageurs completed the weekend sweep, defeating the University of Toronto Blues 101-82. The real test awaited, however, with coach Shawn Swords and company heading to the nation's capital the next weekend, a city where victories have been scarce over the course of the past five to six years (at minimum).

A slow start ultimately would cost the visitors dearly against the powerhouse that is the Ravens. Carleton bolted to end of quarter leads of 21-9, 38-20 and 58-39, before Laurentian would make a run, outscoring the homeside 28-13 in quarter four and narrowing the final margin to just four points, falling 71-67.

The typically well balanced Carleton attack featured Yasiin Joseph (14), Mitch Jackson (14), Marcus Anderson (12) and Munis Tutu (10), though the L.U. scoring line looked eerily similar with their quartet of Aromolaran (16), Yengue (16), Gray (14) and Theo Thomas (11).

The real breakthrough would come some 24 hours, as the Voyageurs and Gee Gees literally traded basket for basket through the first three quarters of play. In fact, the teams were tied 16-16 after one, 27-27 at the half, with Ottawa pulling ahead 53-52 before Laurentian hit the gas.

Their string of fourth quarter surges continued, with Swords and company capturing the final ten minutes 27-18, allowing for a little breathing room in their 79-71 triumph on the road.

Now in his fifth year of U Sport eligibility, Yengue was at the top of his game versus the Gee Gees, leading all scorers with a 27-point performance. Anthony Iacoe (14), Gray (11) and Josis Mikia-Thomas (11) also hit double digits for the winners.

"I like our growth, I like the detail we've gotten into," noted coach Swords earlier this month. "We're trying to focus on every game, every practice, trying to get better. We're not taking anything for granted."

"We're just working hard and playing hard, every single game, no matter who we're against," Swords continued. "I think that's been a big thing that's helped us enjoy some of our success this year."

"I think this year, we have the pieces to build around our main players," chimed in Mildmay (Ontario) native J.D. West. "Everyone really knows their role and they're sticking to it. When that happens, good things happen."

A natural shooter from the outside, the fourth year Sports Administration student has looked to expand his game in 2017-2018. "For me, it's about trying to get involved in the game a bit more than just shooting the ball, whether that's picking up a steal here or there, a couple more rebounds per game, or being more active on defence."

As much as anything, West appreciates the steadying presence of the Canadian Olympian in charge of the program. "He (Swords) is a really personable guy," he noted. "You can get to know him off the court as well as on the court."

"I think that goes a long way, on the court, knowing you can trust him. I think the overall level of trust is really strong with this team." Providing a spark coming off the bench, Sault Ste Marie native and Carleton transfer Anthony Iacoe is now in his second year in Sudbury.

"It's all about growth, becoming more of a leader, continuing to work and staying consistent," said the graduate of Korah Collegiate. "I like to set the tone with my competitiveness, my role as a vocal leader, and just trying to keep everything positive."

"There's going to be ups and downs, so I just want to stay within myself." At this point, it's clearly been far more ups than downs for the current edition of the Voyageurs, on the road for a second straight week with stops in Kingston (Queen's) and Toronto (York Lions).

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