Justin Wright-Foreman’s game-high 32 points helped the Winnipeg Sea Bears (4-5) snap a four-game losing skid as they fought back for an 88-84 win over the league-leading Vancouver Bandits (7-2) on Wednesday.

It was a season-high night for last year’s MVP runner-up in just his third game as a Sea Bear. And none of his baskets were more important than the last one, as Wright-Foreman banked in a deep three for the game-winner before turning to the Canada Life Centre crowd and letting out a well-earned “I’m him.”

His heroics helped Winnipeg overcome the fact they had blown a 13-point third quarter lead and trailed by 12 heading into Target Score Time.

“I always think a win is possible,” said Wright-Foreman when asked what went through his mind during the game’s final moments. “No lead is safe, [especially] in Target Time.”

“I feel like today we did an overall team effort to win this game … it’s about all of us as a group and that was most impressive.”

Wright-Foreman was backed up by Emmanuel Akot’s 15 points off the bench, Simon Hildebrandt’s 10 points and David Muenkat’s seven-point, 12-rebound performance.

A man jumps in the air shooting a two-point field goal in a basketball gameEmmanuel Akot came off the bench and shot 15 points for the Sea Bears. The Winnipegger has 28 points on the season so far. (Winnipeg Sea Bears)

On the other side, the Bandits’ furious second-half rally ultimately fell short as they saw a franchise-best five-game win streak come to an end. Vancouver was led by Duane Notice’s season-high 19 points off the bench, while Koby McEwen, Tazé Moore and Zach Copeland each pitched in with 17, 15 and 14, respectively. James Karnik narrowly missed out on a double-double with nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds. 

“It sucks to lose,” Notice said postgame. “But it’ll be another lesson for us, especially being on the road and learning how to play together. And knowing us, we’re going to fight through the adversity and get back at it.”

The biggest question mark heading into the game was what this Sea Bears team would look like without Teddy Allen, having released the guard on Monday.

And the early returns were as positive as Winnipeg fans could’ve hoped for as they began the game on a 14-3 run. Most surprisingly, it was sparked by their defensive effort. A ball club that typically gives up a league-high 98.8 points per game held the Bandits to just five made baskets on 35 per cent field goal shooting in the opening frame.

“Everyone was connected,” Taylor said on what clicked defensively as they led 28-18 after the first quarter. “They were defending within the system and trusting all five guys were giving maximum effort … a unified defence.”

And although the Bandits weren’t phased by their slow start, promptly hitting a barrage of threes in the second quarter to cut the lead down to as few as three points, Winnipeg had a response of their own.

A man dribbles a basketballWinnipeg native Simon Hildebrandt (15) had 10 points for the Sea Bears. (Winnipeg Sea Bears)

The Sea Bears answer came in the form of Wright-Foreman, as the import replied to Vancouver’s five made threes in the frame by scoring 11 points to rebuild the home team’s lead.

Any doubts over how the Sea Bears would account for the absence of Allen’s league-leading 28.1 points per game were quickly dispelled thanks to the leadership of Wright-Foreman. Last year’s MVP runner-up finished the first half with 19 points as Winnipeg held onto a 46-37 lead.

“We were not playing with a lot of life,” Julius said of the Bandits’ first half play. “We lost all our fifty-fifty battle. We were flat.

“We haven’t been down like that at the half all year. It’s a good test.”

And it’s safe to say Vancouver passed that test despite giving up an 8-0 run and trailing by as many as 13 points in the third.

Trailing 57-44 at the 4:39 mark of the frame, the Bandits went on a 16-1 run to take their first lead all night. The outburst was spearheaded by Notice who hit back-to-back threes as part of nine points in the frame.

Normally considered a glue guy, Notice took over the scoring load with usuals McEwen, Copeland and Moore all having inefficient nights. And he easily outpaced his usual output of 5.5 points per game as Vancouver led 64-62 headed into the fourth thanks to his effort.

“Not at all surprised,” Julius said on the Bandits’ captain taking charge in the third quarter. “He works on his game as hard as anyone I’ve been around. He’s a winner and showed that tonight.”

It appeared the Bandits had all but sealed the victory through the first six minutes of the final frame as they went on a 14-4 run and lead 78-66 prior to Target Score Time.

That was when Winnipeg’s defence, dormant since the first quarter, woke up and led the improbable comeback. The Sea Bears began the stoppage period on a 9-0 run, forcing the Bandits to miss their first five shots.

From there, Winnipeg capitalized. Alex Campbell and Muenkat hit back-to-back triples to give the Sea Bears an 85-84 lead before forcing a contested heave from Moore on the other end, allowing Wright-Foreman to then take and drill the game-winning dagger.

“Target Score Time is a player’s game,” Taylor said on his impressions of the Sea Bears in the game-winning moments. “We have to go out there and turn up our [defence] and make plays, and they did it.”

When it mattered most, Winnipeg’s defence stepped up - something they have struggled to do for most of the season. They held the league’s second-best scoring team (92.8 points per game) to well below their usual pace on 41 per cent shooting from the field while forcing 18 turnovers for 21 points.

The 84 points scored by the Bandits were the second-fewest put up by the West’s top squad in 2024 and only the second time the Sea Bears have held an opponent under 80 points this season.

“I’m so proud of the team effort, and we were rewarded today,” Taylor concluded. “The game smiled down on us with that last shot.

“To knock off the hottest team in the league after we’ve been struggling … I’m really proud of our team.”