GVSU wins GLIAC, punches ticket to NCAA tournament
Going into the GLIAC tournament, no one in their right mind would have predicted that No. 7 Grand Valley State, a team who was 12-11 after losing to No. 3 Wisconsin-Parkside in overtime exactly one month ago, would comeback to beat the Rangers in a buzzer-beating win in the GLIAC semifinals to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and then go on to win the GLIAC tournament.
But then again, that's exactly why they play the games.
In the closing seconds of the second half, the Lakers looked jittery, as Jake Van Tubbergen couldn't get his footing on his signature spin move, and Hunter Hale couldn't quite make it to the lane, forcing him to kick it out to the corner as he fell to the floor at the Davenport Student Center.
Point guard Jeremiah Ferguson picked up the ball in the corner, executed a crossover and threw up a mid-range shot from the baseline that hit the front of the rim before rolling up and in as time expired, securing the 55-53 win and tournament berth for GVSU.
The berth was clinched before the title game because their championship opponent, Davenport, has not been a Division II team for the minimum three years to be eligible for the NCAA tournament, therefore the Lakers inherited the GLIAC's automatic bid.
"I just want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ, because without him I wouldn't have that shot and we wouldn't be in this position." Ferguson said. "I just wanted to get it up, I was shooting very well today, but my teammates did a great job picking up the slack because I didn't play my best today."
The game could have been a blowout, as GVSU trailed by 11 to the Rangers in the opening minutes. A teary-eyed head coach Ric Wesley could not stress enough the important of good defense, leadership and grit to make that comeback.
"We started off poorly, but I thought as the game went along, in the second half, our defense was a little bit better, and certainly our offense was a lot better," Wesley said. "Hunter (Hale) really showed some leadership in that second half, Isaiah (Brock) was tremendous the entire game and I thought we got really good contributions off the bench from Shake (McArthur) and Zach (West)."
It was truly a team effort by the Lakers, as Brock helped hold down the fort defensively, posting two blocks and 13 rebounds to help lead a defense that held the Rangers to 41.8 percent from the field, including 27.3 percent from three.
The great defense helped lead to good offense, as Hale led all players with 19 points and the Lakers crashing the offensive boards extremely well, with seven of the team's offensive rebounds going to McArthur.
"It feels good," Ferguson said regarding the NCAA tournament bid. "I don't think it's really hit me yet until we get there, but it's surreal and I can't wait to celebrate this win with my teammates.
After the big win, GVSU headed back to Davenport to play the top-seeded Panthers in the GLIAC championship the next day at 3 p.m.. Behind 27 points from Ferguson, 20 points form Hale and the team shooting 54.9 percent from the field, the Lakers were able to capture victory, 80-70.
Being that the Lakers already had a spot secured in the NCAA tournament, it would have been somewhat excused for them to not give their best effort. But in front of a packed gym in a game between two schools less than 30 miles apart, the packed atmosphere brought the best out of the Lakers.
"We played well, we got a little momentum going, I wanted to see of we could keep it going going into the NCAA tournament, because we're going to face nothing but teams of the caliber of Davenport," Wesley said. "Thanks so much for all the Grand Valley people that were here today, we needed every bit of energy we could get. It was a packed gym, both teams had plenty of support, it was really everything you would hope a GLIAC championship game would be."
Wesley couldn't be more proud of his team for banding together and making this final push, as GVSU has won six of their last seven games since that overtime loss to Wisconsin Parkside in February.
"That's one of your goals at the beginning of the year, you'd like to get to the postseason and advance," Wesley said. "It's a great accomplishment for our guys to have pulled together as they did in their last month of the year."