GVSU men’s basketball to face top two GLIAC programs on the road to end regular season

GVL / Emily Frye 
Men’s Basketball vs Wayne State University at the DeltaPlex Arena on Thursday February 8, 2018.

GVL / Emily Frye Men’s Basketball vs Wayne State University at the DeltaPlex Arena on Thursday February 8, 2018.

Robbie Triano

After demolishing the Tiffin Dragons 84-62 on Senior Day on Saturday, Feb. 17, the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team could finally let out a sigh of relief. 

That relief came from finally clinching a spot in this season’s GLIAC Tournament—their third consecutive year qualifying for postseason action. 

While the Lakers currently sit as the seventh seed in the eight-team tournament, GVSU head coach Ric Wesley believes the general public just doesn’t understand how difficult the task of simply qualifying for the postseason truly is. 

“We’re in such a competitive conference full of misfits and really solid teams,” Wesley said. “There’s not a single team where we can take a break from. People don’t realize that it’s really something to pride yourself just making it to this point.”

However, the Lakers can’t breathe easy quite yet. Heading into their final weekend of regular-season competition, GVSU will face off against the No. 1 and 2 teams in the GLIAC—No. 3 nationally ranked Ferris State (27-1 overall, 17-1 GLIAC) and Lake Superior State (20-6 overall, 14-4 GLIAC)—on the road. 

Although a difficult way to close out the season, these contests will give the Lakers another chance to scout these teams heading into the tournament. Currently as the No. 7 seed, GVSU will most likely face No. 2 LSSU in the opening round.

“I don’t know all the mathematical possibilities on if we can move up the ranks or not, but it would certainly help our cause if we could win these games and move up a spot or two to have a better seed,” Wesley said. “If it ends up that these are the teams we’re going to face, then this gives us a trial run at them. No matter what happens—good or bad—we’re going to learn something from these games that we can bring into the tournament.”

The first contest of the weekend will take place in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, against the Lakers of LSSU. In their matchup earlier this season, GVSU grabbed a 66-62 victory in their most impressive showing of the entire season Thursday, Jan. 18, at the DeltaPlex Arena. 

But that doesn’t mean GVSU can take it easy against the other Lakers. Besides being the lone team to beat FSU this season, LSSU has the star power to defeat any team in their path. Leading their team is the 5-foot-8-inch point guard Akaemji Williams—a Division II version of Russell Westbrook, according to coach Wesley—who currently ranks third in the GLIAC in points per game (18.8) and first in assists (7.0).

In their previous matchup, GVSU’s game plan was to let Williams “beat them” on offense instead of getting his teammates open. The plan worked as Williams only converted six of his 24 attempts for 16 points.

“He’s most effective when he gets his teammates going, so we knew we had to let him take over the game,” said senior point guard Myles Miller in the post-game interview. 

After that tough task, GVSU will then head to Big Rapids, Michigan, for an even larger task against the No. 3 nationally ranked and archrival Ferris State Bulldogs on Saturday, Feb. 24. The Lakers had an upset victory in their grasps earlier in the season, but they couldn’t stop the Bulldogs in the final minutes to drop the contest 87-71 on Saturday, Jan. 20, at home. 

This is a tough time to face the Bulldogs as they have won 15 consecutive games after their loss to LSSU. Unless something major derails their team, the Bulldogs have a real shot at claiming the National Championship.

Their major production comes inside from junior center Zach Hankins, who currently leads the GLIAC in rebounds (9.4)—about one more rebound on average than the No. 2 spot—while also averaging 15.2 points per game. But Hankins isn’t their only major source of production as seniors Drew Cushinberry (13.8 PPG) and Noah King (12 PPG) make it uneasy for any defense.

These final two contests may serve as the truest evaluation of the Laker team all season. To watch/listen to the games at home, head over to ww.gvsulakers.com for more streaming information.