To anyone catching a last-minute flight from Thunder Bay to see the Lakehead Thunderwolves play for a national championship: bring some ice for Greg Carter's shoulder.
For five seasons at Lakehead, the 5-foot-9 guard who's the best defender in the country has played like he would suit up even if he was left with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg. What Carter did to help secure the Thunderwolves' biggest basketball win in a generation, the whistle-filled 66-62 fracas in the CIS Final 8 semifinal over the Ottawa Gee-Gees, exemplified why Lakehead is still playing even when, by most metrics, someone else ought to be in the final.
With three minutes left in a game that was played on the edge, as is the style in Ontario University Athletics but apparently not among out-of-conference officials, Carter's shoulder slipped out of joint during a loose-ball battle in front of the Gee-Gees bench. With a minute left and Lakehead up four, he hit the floor again and had to be subbed. Then he was right back out.
"I’m going to ice it and see how it feels," said the Ottawa native, who had to stay on the floor after the horn despite the pain in order to receive his CIS defensive player of the year award. "It shouldn’t be a factor. I was only really upset because I got a foul."
Granted, Carter isn't the only player in tournament that requires winning three games in about 48 hours playing through injury. But Lakehead coach Scott Morrison spoke openly of it, which might be telling. There's only so much a team can overcome and now Lakehead is going into the final with its top scorer Ryan Thomson out with a torn ACL and Carter likely limited.
"Greg Carter finished the game with one of his shoulders out of his socket," said Morrison. "He probably won’t be able to play tomorrow but I’m never going to forget the heart that kid showed in the last three minutes of the game.
"I’m assuming we’re not going to have him," Morrison said. "It’s the biggest game of his career, if he can give us one minute or 40 minutes, he’s going to give us whatever he’s got."
Regardless of how much Carter and Lakehead have left for Sunday's 3:30 p.m. ET final, they have wrecked the storyline. There's no doubting everyone from CIS highers-up on down wanted the Carleton-Ottawa final to push university sports beyond its normal reach. That even included the Ravens. A Carleton staffer even murmured "that's disappointing" after the final buzzer.
The Gee-Gees held up their half of the bargain for 2½ quarters, taking a nine-point lead shortly after the break. But Lakehead was starting to work its way back while playing under a constant whistle (49 fouls) was pushing the younger Gee-Gees to their breaking point — "that was an issue, but we did lose our composure, which didn't help with gaining favour with the referees," Ottawa coach James Derouin said.
That came to head just before the midpoint of the fourth quarter. With Derouin hoping his team could hang on until the media timeout, Lakehead ran off 11 points in 80 seconds, with nine coming from sixth man extraordinaire Joseph Jones (22 points). With Carter sticking to Gee-Gees star Warren Ward (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Dwayne Harvey vexing Ottawa scoring leader Johnny Berhanemeskel (two points on 1-for-13), Lakehead carried it home.
"We only need one more," Morrison said when asked if his seventh-seeded team has another miracle. "We don't know if it's in there, but we're going to cut a hole in our pocket and reach in as far as we can.
"All credit to the guys, not just the guys who are graduating but the ones who are no longer here like Jamie Searle and Andrew Hackner," Morrison added. "A lot of people put their blood, sweat and tears into this and here we are. Last time Lakehead was in the championship game [in 1977] not one person in our locker room was even alive, including me."
There is only so much a team can overcome, though. What Lakehead does defensively, particularly defending on the perimeter, starts with Carter.
"Greg Carter just does a great job," an admiring Derouin said. "It’s just tough to bring the ball over half against him. He was back to his usual self defensively."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.