Lakers end season with 78-72 loss at Tech

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Rob Woodson

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Rob Woodson

Jay Bushen

The sharpshooters belonging to the fourth-seeded Michigan Technological University men’s basketball team earned the right to play on their home court — and they protected it.

MTU, which beat Grand Valley State University twice in the regular season, made all five of its shots in the final minute to break a 72-72 tie and eliminate the Lakers from the 2014 GLIAC Tournament on March 5 at the SDC Gym in Houghton, Mich.

The first-round matchup featured seven tie scores and seven lead changes, but the experience of the seasoned Husky backcourt was on full display when it mattered most.

“It was a great game on both sides, a hard-fought game,” GVSU junior forward Chaz Rollins said. “Everybody played their heart out; they just made a couple more plays down the stretch.”

MTU senior guard Austin Armga buried a 15-foot jump shot with 47 seconds left and followed it up with a steal on the other end before junior guard Ben Stelzer sealed the game with four straight free throws.

Stelzer finished with a career-high 34 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line to go with five assists and four rebounds.

“We knew he was a good player — he had 29 points against us in the first two games combined,” Rollins said. “He was hitting fade-away threes with a hand in his face. He probably had the game of his life.”

Rollins finished with 16 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

All four GVSU reserves scored in double figures, but it wasn’t enough to upstage the play of Stelzer who may as well have been shooting from the Keweenaw Waterway.

“He was just on fire,” GVSU coach Ric Wesley said. “We probably didn’t do as good of a job as we could have done in the first four or five minutes when we were a little late in our coverage. From that point on, we made the adjustments and were doing everything we could do to limit his touches and looks at the basket. He was just in a zone.”

Wesley said fifth-year senior point guard Rob Woodson was finding ways to limit Stelzer in the second half, but the turning point came when Woodson suffered an ankle injury.

Woodson, who helped the Lakers clinch the fifth seed by hitting a pair free throws with 16 seconds left in an overtime win at Ferris State University on Feb. 27, still managed to play through the pain.

He finished with 11 points and a game-high six assists.

“I’ve seen it before with guys who have had great years,” Wesley said. “They’re bruised, they’re battered, they’re limping, and it’s just an indicator that they’ve given it their all. It sort of summed up Rob’s season. This is a special guy — you don’t get a chance to be around a guy like Rob very often. He hung in there through the tough times, persevered when it wasn’t easy and set a tremendous standard for our program.

“As we looked out there — the two guys that made big plays for them were a four-year guy in Armga and a three-year guy in Stelzer. We only had two of those veteran-type players (Woodson and junior guard Ryan Sabin), so next year we’ll have more three-year players in our program, and that’s big.”

Sabin and Armga earned All-GLIAC First Team honors on March 3 while Woodson and Stelzer garnered second-team plaudits.

GVSU (19-8) figures to compete with the best in the conference once again next season, but it will have some big shoes to fill with the departure of its only four-year player, Woodson, who sauntered off the court for the final time in a Laker uniform.

“I had all types of memories going through my head but was thinking ‘it’s really over for me now,’” he said. “Playing for Grand Valley was one of the happiest times in my life. I will always cherish these moments.

“Playing college basketball was like a dream come true.”