Laker defense, clutch shooting spurs 9-1 start
GVL / Hannah Mico. Sophomore Darren Kapustka prepares to dodge his way toward Findlay’s basket to score yet another point toward the Lakers’ victory on Saturday.
The Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team may not be the most talented team in the conference, but through 10 games, that has mattered little.
GVSU (9-1, 5-1) will look to remain near the top of the GLIAC standings in the coming months after somewhat of a surprising start that consisted of a stingy team defense that set up clutch performances late in games.
The team has limited its opponents to a 39.7 field goal percentage clip while surrendering 65.1 points against per game. Both rank as the lowest overall marks among GLIAC teams.
“There’s just fewer possessions in every game that we play compared to some teams,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “I like to think we do a good job defensively, but I think it’s the nature of who we are in the league. We play just good enough defense that we make them get late into the shot clock. I don’t think it’s about style of play, but it’s about the intensity of the game.”
The Lakers rarely surrender an uncontested layup or jump shot and seem to make their adversaries work for every bucket. They have also found a way to consistently keep opponents out of the lane for the most part, despite their lack of size, by using a collapsing defensive strategy.
Freshman guard Luke Ryskamp, who recently played his way into the starting lineup, said the team sticks mostly to a man-to-man approach but changes it up based on the scouting report of each game.
“We know playing good defense will lead to a good offense,” Ryskamp said. “If we don’t play good defensively we’re not going to win. Our coaches always say we’re not the most offensively skilled team, so to get shots we have to play defense.”
GVSU does not have a single player in the list of the league’s top 17 scorers, but its offense has been getting it done largely thanks to the play of junior guard Ryan Sabin.
Sabin has been the most consistent weapon on the team thus far and has tallied 10 or more points in each of his first 10 games. His ability to connect from beyond the arc seems to be the top priority of opposing defenders.
The Byron Center, Mich. native recently connected on six consecutive triples, three to close out the 68-66 loss to Hillsdale College on Thursday and three to start the 81-76 upset victory against No. 12 Findlay University on Saturday, but has struggled to sustain the production when teams start to key in on him.
“I’ve had some hot starts, I just need to learn how to put two halves together,” he said. “It’s tough because they adjust when you come out that hot. I need to adjust, too. Against Findlay, I was kind of revved up a bit and was moving a little too fast. I’ll figure it out here pretty soon.”
The team has also been powered by the play of fifth-year senior guard Rob Woodson during his first season as a starter.
Woodson is averaging 11.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game and leads the team with 17 steals.
“You’ve got to give Rob a lot of credit,” Wesley said. “He’s had a pretty good start to his senior year.
We ask an awful lot of him and put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, but for the most part, he has exceeded our expectations at this point. He’s shown he is capable of doing even more.”
Woodson was clutch early in the season when he hit the game-winning layup for a 61-58 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan. His late-game heroics have since been matched by backup sophomore guard Darren Kapustka, who has hit three game-winning shots (free throw, layup, 3-pointer) this season, including the triple that broke a 74-74 tie to upset Findlay.
If GVSU can continue to play solid defense and execute late in games, it appears to have what it takes to hang with the long list of contenders in the GLIAC.
The team, which plays six of its next seven on the road, will head to Ohio to play at Walsh University at 7:30 p.m. for the first time before taking on Malone University on Saturday at 3 p.m.