For the third straight year, coach Shawn Swords and company have translated home court advantage into a first-round playoff victory, squeezing past the York Lions 86-85 at the Ben Avery Gymnasium on Wednesday evening.
With Laurentian struggling through the opening quarter to find their shooting range, York built up at 10-point lead, ahead 31-21 just minutes into the second quarter.
Blessed with a bigger team across the board, the Lions used the inside presence of Nick Tufegdzich (24 pts) to offset the speed of the homeside.
Gradually chipping away, the Voyageurs closed the gap and then some, recording an 8-0 run heading to half time that was capped off by a three-point buzzer-beater from Alex Ratte (20 pts).
Leading 45-40 to start the third quarter, LU extended the lead, receiving timely baskets from David Aromolaran (10), Josh Budd (13) and Tychon Carter- Newman (24) in moving the score to 71-58 after three quarters of play.
Still in control at 78-64 with about seven minutes to play, Laurentian shooting went stone cold at the worst possible time.
Led by veteran Ryan Ejim (15) and rookie Nathan Culbreath (17), the visitors shocked the large crowd, scoring 15 unanswered points to give York a 79-78 lead with 2:33 remaining in the Laurentian season.
Then, two separate trips to the free-throw line by Carter-Newman added three points to the LU linescore, with Ejim squeezing a basket in between, leaving the contest deadlocked at 81-81.
Coming off the bench, Aaron Rados would restore the Lions' lead with an aggressive drive to the basket, only to see Budd nail a three-pointer in what was likely his final CIS game in front of the Laurentian faithful.
Culbreath countered with two of his own, as the Voyageurs took control of the ball with just 22 seconds showing on the clock, trailing by one (85-84). An LU timeout was followed by a sequence that took 17 seconds off the board, but added no points for the homeside, with the ball deflecting out of bounds off a York defender.
Inbounding on the end line and using the outside threat of Ratte as a decoy, Laurentian slid Carter-Newman inside for the go-ahead points with four seconds to play. Fouled in the process, the Brampton native missed on the ensuing free throw, a failed attempt that would make all the difference in the world.
Grabbing the rebound, Tufegdzich frantically called for a timeout, seemingly forgetting that under FIBA rules, a timeout cannot be called on a live ball. The final buzzer sounded as Laurentian escaped without having to defend the one final threat that York might have mounted.
As expected, the contest provided a sharp contrast in styles, with LU hitting for 10 three-point baskets (compared to just two for York), while the Lions controlled the boards, more than doubling the Voyageurs in rebounds (47-21).
Coach Swords and his crew now have the unenviable task of travelling to Ottawa to take on the three-time defending CIS champion Carleton Ravens, bearers of the national championship banner in nine of the past 11 years.
Laurentian and Carleton tip off in one of two OUA East semifinals Saturday at 8 p.m., with the Ryerson Rams visiting the Ottawa Gee Gees in the other.