GVSU men's basketball falls to Northern Michigan in overtime despite strong showing

By Robbie Triano | 12/11/17 1:26am

NMU vs GVSU(1)
GVL / Sheila Babbitt Myles Miller shoots a three at the game against Northern Michigan Univeristy on December 9th, 2017.

Frustrating.

That’s the one word Grand Valley State men’s basketball coach Ric Wesley used to describe the Lakers’ final score as they dropped their game against Northern Michigan 71-68 in overtime Saturday, Dec. 9, at the GVSU Fieldhouse.

What was most frustrating to Wesley wasn’t how his team performed, but rather that their all-around solid play didn’t result in stopping their losing streak, which now sits at six straight games.

“I just feel bad for our guys because we went out there and played hard-nosed basketball,” Wesley said. “We had moments where we showed our good play but just didn’t get the stops we needed at the end of the game.”

Well before heading into the contest, the Lakers knew they had to come out strong with energy and drive in the first half. In the previous four games, GVSU had entered the halftime break trailing due to difficulties finding their offensive rhythm. 

GVSU finally got it done, as the team came out ready to play on both ends of the floor. A major factor to finding their rhythm early came from their newly implemented “small-ball” starting lineup, highlighted by freshman forward Jake Van Tubbergen starting at the center position. The decision opened up spacing for the offense while highlighting more athleticism and skill with their defense.

The Lakers took a narrow 29-28 advantage over the Wildcats heading into halftime. Sophomore guard Hunter Hale led the offensive attack, leading the team with 8 points (2 of 4 for 3-point FG) and four rebounds. Senior teammate Myles Miller was a pest defensively, grabbing two early steals to add to his 5 points and three assists.

“Coming out smaller was something newer for us, but it all worked out because we came out playing pretty hard and aggressive from the start,” Hale said.

That strong start carried through into the second half as the Lakers took a seemingly commanding 11-point lead with 12:49 remaining in regulation. Senior center Drake Baar led the outburst with his scoring in the paint, pulling out 10 second-half points and finishing the contest with a team-high 16.

But the Wildcats didn’t quit, as they attacked the Lakers to draw eight second-half free throws to NMU’s Naba Echols off some questionable foul calls. Echols converted all eight of his chances.

“That was 8 points down the stretch that we just couldn’t afford to give up,” Wesley said. “Hats off to Echols for getting those chances, but some of those calls allowed him to do that.”

With the game tied at 55 with 3:34 remaining, both teams battled for the lead until GVSU junior Zach West fought two Northern Michigan defenders to grab a Hunter Hale miss. He then made a layup to give GVSU a 3-point lead with 1:05 remaining. West finished the contest with 9 points and a team-high 12 rebounds (six offensive, six defensive).

Echols continued to be a pain in GVSU’s side, as he hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 63 to force overtime. 

Overtime didn’t go GVSU’s way, as the Wildcats found holes in the Laker defense to give themselves a 71-68 lead with two seconds remaining. GVSU had the chance for a game-tying 3-pointer, but a pass to an open Van Tubbergen sailed over his heads and out of bounds. With the loss, GVSU’s record drops to 3-7 (0-4 GLIAC), while Northern Michigan improved to 7-3 (4-0 GLIAC).

Although the pain of the loss remained, the Lakers knew their play was an immediate improvement from their efforts earlier this season. For a team whose top talent graduated last season and now requires newly added transfers and freshmen to play heavy minutes, the fruit of their labor is finally looking in the right direction. 

“I was disappointed that we didn’t win the game, but I wasn’t disappointed with our team,” Wesley said. “We just need to work on what’s next and build on this performance.”

GVSU will next head to Hammond, Indiana, to face recently added GLIAC foe Purdue Northwest on Saturday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m.

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