Gutsy overtime victory

Tony Peters anticipates a pass from his teammate Breland Hogan

Eric Coulter

Tony Peters anticipates a pass from his teammate Breland Hogan

Brady Fredericksen

Down 13 points late in the second half, the struggling Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team was staring defeat square in the face.

Playing without the assistance of senior K’Len Morris and juniors Alvin Storrs and Nick Waddell, the Lakers (16-5, 11-3) trailed on the road against a Lake Superior State University team (13-8, 7-7) looking to send GVSU back to Allendale with a third-straight conference loss after falling to Saginaw Valley State on Thursday.

Much to the chagrin of the Lake State team and fans, GVSU’s Justin Ringler and James Thomas had other plans as they combined to score 23 of the team’s 29 second-half points to lead GVSU to a gutsy come-from-behind win in overtime with a final score of 68-63.

“This is one (game) that we really, really needed bad, and our guys really picked up the defensive intensity,” said GVSU head coach Ric Wesley, whose team recorded 10 consecutive defensive stops in the second half. “We’re not really worried about (losing) streaks, we’re just trying to figure out our team.”

The win kept GVSU within a game of first-place Ferris State, but also served as a confidence builder for an injured team struggling to find chemistry on the fly.

After leading by nine midway through the first, the visiting Lakers went cold from the field and the home Lakers took advantage, going on a 23-4 scoring run to end the first half. During the run, Lake State found consistent open looks from three-point range, shown by their seven makes.

GVSU’s struggles against the three-point shot were a big reason for the Lakers’ recent two-game slide, but as the second half came, so did GVSU’s perimeter defense.

“We called a timeout with around 10 minutes left and knew we had to step up the intensity,” said Thomas, who grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds in the win. “But we just wanted to pick it up, and after that we got the ten stops in a row.”

With 12:34 remaining in the game, GVSU found themselves in a 13-point hole, down 44-31. It was at that point when Ringler and Thomas – who led a 18-5 GVSU run late in the second half – took over the scoring and rebounding load.

“We just got to the point where we knew we had to go on a run or lose the game,” said Ringler, who scored 12 points to go along with his eight rebounds and five steals. “It came down to (defensive) stops, which helped us on offense to work the ball and get better shots.”

Following the run, GVSU suddenly had the confident Lake State team backpedaling after they tied the game at 49 with 2:20 left.

A Justin Williams’ jumper gave Lake State a two-point lead on the next possession, and a Breland Hogan turnover led to a Derek Billings’ lay-up to extend the deficit to four. But it was the all-around play of Thomas that gave GVSU a chance at the end.

“James was tremendous today, especially late in the game when we needed him; he wanted the ball and he hit shots,” Wesley said. “He was a monster on the glass and has been one of the two guys who are really picking up the slack on rebounding.”

Thomas’ late play proved important as he scored the last five GVSU points, including a pair of free-throws to tie the game at 54 with 12 seconds left.

“I knew we were down two, and we needed a bucket,” said Thomas, who paced GVSU with 18 points. “When I saw the lane open up, I put my body out there and I knew it was going to be a foul and I knocked the free throws down.”

Following Thomas’ makes at the free-throw line, Lake State pushed the ball up court, and Williams drew a foul on GVSU center Asauhn Tatum with three seconds left.

Williams missed both chances and Ringler rebounded the miss, barely missing on his own three-point try from just shy of half court.

The overtime period would be GVSU’s second in three games, a feat last accomplished in 2002.

Opening the half hot, Thomas and Ringler would continue to carry the scoring load for the Lakers, scoring the first five points of the period. Lake State’s Micah Hudson scored a four-point play in OT to cut the GVSU lead to one, but it would not be enough.

“It was huge to execute our offense right off the bat,” Ringler said. “It helps to not be behind the eight ball early, but usually the team that comes back to send it to OT has the momentum. And having that second life really gave us some energy.”

GVSU will be on the road again next week as they travel to Ohio to face Ashland University on Thursday and Lake Erie College on Saturday.

[email protected]

Game Notes: Storrs is expected to return sometime next week depending on the results of his post-concussion testing… Waddell, who has missed the last three contests, will miss another 2-3 weeks… With assistance from head football coach Matt Mitchell, wide receiver Jovonne Augustus and quarterback Isiah Grimes have helped to fill the Lakers’ basketball roster due to the recent injuries.