Second-half letdowns slow GVSU in Illinois

GVL / Robert Mathews 
Darren Kapustka

GVL / Archive

GVL / Robert Mathews Darren Kapustka

Jay Bushen

The Grand Valley State basketball team began its regular season with a crash course in Closing Out Games 101.

GVSU returned from the GLIAC/GLVC Challenge with a 1-1 record after a 58-53 loss to the University of Missouri-St. Louis on Saturday and a 69-67 win over host Quincy University on Sunday. The Lakers led by more than 15 points in the second half of each game.

“We need to be better at closing games, that’s the main thing,” said GVSU senior guard Ryan Sabin. “A lot can be learned from these games.”

The season opener at UMSL was a tale of two halves for the Lakers.

GVSU was strong defensively in the opening frame, holding UMSL to just 18 first-half points and a 21.9 shooting-percentage clip. The Lakers led by 16 at the break and increased their lead to 20 early in the second half – but the Tritons didn’t go away. 

Senior guard Aareon Smith spearheaded the impressive comeback effort, scoring 13 points in the second stanza, as UMSL went on a 38-13 run in the final 18 minutes before escaping with the 58-53 victory.

Smith, one of three UMSL players to score in double figures, led the way with a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. Sabin also had a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, but it wasn’t enough.

“They were very aggressive,” said GVSU coach Ric Wesley. “We missed some easy ones, turned the ball over a little bit and they got in the bonus very early.”

Twenty turnovers and 21 personal fouls allowed the Tritons to stay in the game. UMSL shot 26 of its 28 free-throw attempts in the second half, and was seemingly automatic at the line. The team hit 26-of-28 freebies (92.9 percent).

GVSU junior forward Ricky Carbajal poured in 12 points, while senior center Chaz Rollins added nine, all in the first half, after knocking down all seven of his free throws.

Sunday’s game at Quincy had a similar script. 

The Lakers raced out to a big second-half lead – and made it a 56-40 contest with less than eight minutes to play – but tentative GVSU offense and relentless Quincy defense allowed the Hawks to hang around.

“We were up 20 in the second half – but when you’re down 20 you just start hitting shots and being aggressive,” Sabin said.

Quincy went on a 26-11 run and made it a one-point game with 47 seconds to play, but GVSU junior point guard Darren Kapustka – as he often does – came up big for the Lakers. With 22 seconds left, Kapustka hit a pair of free throws, and GVSU held on.

Sabin led GVSU for the second time in as many days with a game-high 17 points while Carbajal, who played six games for Quincy as a freshman in the 2011-12 season, also scored in double figures for the second game in a row. He had 11 points in the win.

“I played a few of my teammates and my old roommates,” Carbajal said. “I saw a bunch of friends in the stands who used to cheer for me. It was cool.”

GVSU, which plays six of its first seven regular season games on the road, returns to Allendale for its home opener on Saturday against Cedarville at 3 p.m.