Rustlers clinch third

By Gordon Anderson

February 14, 2017 12:00 AM

The Rustlers are dividing games into the smallest of margins.
Behind an inspired second-half surge, the Lakeland College Rustlers men’s basketball team defeated the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings 82-64 in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference play at the Lakeland gym on Friday night.
With the win, the Rustlers (14-7) have clinched third place and with it, earned the third seed in the ACAC North division playoff race. The Rustlers finish regular-season play next weekend when they entertain the Grande Prairie Wolves for a pair of games at the Lakeland gym.
The Vikings (10-9) are eight points clear of the Keyano College Huskies for the fourth and final playoff slot in the north.
With the regular season all but over, the Rustlers have established an identity for themselves, either good or bad.
The squad is extremely quick and athletic, quite possibly, the most athletic in the ACAC. 
However, their biggest road block to championship aspirations will be themselves.  As of late it’s been the back half of the games where the club has taken its collective foot of the throat of the opponent and let them back in the game, despite building double-digit leads in the first half.
Rustlers head coach Sheray Thomas recognizes that fact and is trying to address it. Friday was a step in the right direction for the club, outscoring the visitors by six points in the third and six points in the fourth quarter.
“We just have to win every quarter,” Thomas said. “We had to push because we saw running was working against them. That was our goal, to come out more focused, because the third quarter has been killing us the last few games and before that it was the fourth quarter. So, we’re just trying to win quarter after quarter.”
“It was good,” Rustlers’ guard, Terrell Murdaugh, added. “We came out ready (for the second half). In the first half, Jonathan Sappleton was going off but it was just him doing it. In the second half everyone brought it together.” Sappleton had 15 points in the first half before exiting the game in the third quarter with cramps in his left leg
The Rustlers were also considerably better in charitable allowance against the Vikings.
The visitors got to the line 11 times, hitting nine of them. That’s a far cry from the previous four games where the Rustlers allowed the opponent 95 free throws combined, an average of 24.5 per game. The opponent converted 71 of those attempts, good enough for an average of 18 free points a game. Despite that the club won three of those games.
“We’re trying to move our feet more and not give up silly fouls,” Thomas said. “A lot of times we’re giving up fouls 90 feet away from our rim. We can’t do that. In the third the Vikings got (in the bonus early), which kept them in the game. I feel if we apply pressure and not foul we’ll do pretty well.”
“(We need to play) hands off,” Murdaugh added. “We play a little too aggressive on defence sometimes. We get lazy with reaches. We have to stay in front (of our men) and move our feet.”
And with the ACAC playoffs less than two weeks away, and a playoff spot clinched, this team isn’t short on confidence.
“We’re a dangerous team, there’s no doubt about it,” Thomas said. “When we’re playing smart, and that’s few and far between, we have the talent to beat anyone. It’s not a secret, every team in the league knows it, we just have to get together and get rolling.”
The club is still in walking wounded mode, with a number of guys in street clothes on Friday night.
Murdaugh is still questionable with a stress fracture in his right leg, though he’s going to try and play next week against the Wolves.
“We practise hard but sometimes we don’t take care of our bodies as well as we could with the stretching and icing,” he said about the amount of injuries the club has sustained this year. “We get lazy with that and that’s (when injuries) happen.”

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