GVSU men’s basketball upsets Lake Superior State, falls short against No. 5 ranked Ferris State

Robbie Triano

Heading into their weekend series, the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team knew they had a mighty task to overcome.

That task was taking on the current No. 1 and No. 2 teams in an extremely competitive and physical Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) in just a three-day span: Ferris State and Lake Superior State, respectively.

The Lakers stepped up to the challenge, playing their best overall team basketball so far this season against both teams. GVSU upset the Lake Superior State Lakers 66-62 on Thursday, Jan. 18, at the DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids. Two days later, the Lakers faced off against No. 5 nationally ranked and rival Ferris State Bulldogs, but fell 87-81 despite another strong showing Saturday, Jan. 20, at the GVSU Fieldhouse.

After the weekend series, the Lakers’ record now stands at 10-9 overall (5-6 GLIAC). Although this may be a seemingly average record to a non-follower, this team has been recently making positive strides that have taught head coach Ric Wesley a lot about the character of his players.

“I think our team is pretty damn tough,” Wesley said. “We went through a stretch early in the year where we were really struggling. Perhaps the schedule wasn’t in our favor, but as time’s gone on, we’ve played the better teams, and it gives me hope that maybe we’ve got good things in store for us.”

GVSU 66, Lake Superior State 62

As a part of this season’s “Downtown Thursdays” series, the GVSU men’s basketball team headed to the DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids to face off against Lake Superior State (14-4 overall, 8-2 GLIAC) and their star point guard Akaemji Williams. Williams is currently third in the GLIAC in points per game (19.3) and first in assists per game (6.9).

“I compare (Williams) as the Division II equivalent of Russell Westbrook,” Wesley said. “Whether it’s driving to the paint, creating shots or finding looks for his teammates, he can do it all offensively.”

With the DeltaPlex environment and recent hype revolving around the emerging Lakers, GVSU came out with a certain focus and energy that previously hadn’t been there. To spark the offense, the Lakers began feeding centers Justin Greason and Drake Baar down low for easy buckets in the paint.

After shooting 54 percent from the field, the Lakers found themselves 37-32 heading into halftime. Besides their success inside, the main matchup of the contest was between Lake Superior’s Williams and GVSU senior point guard Myles Miller, and Miller was leading the fight with 6 first-half points and stingy on-ball defense.

“Before the contest, our coaching staff realized that we had to make (Williams) beat us by himself,” Miller said. “He’s most dangerous when he gets his teammates involved, so we had to challenge him to do the heavy lifting for his team.”

The plan worked, as Williams finished with a poor shooting performance, converting only six of his 24 attempts from the field for 16 points. 

But with 1:28 remaining in regulation, Lake Superior pulled within 2 points and gained momentum. While Lake Superior had a chance to tie the game up, GVSU junior Zach West came up big with a block, followed by a ricochet rebound that fell right into the hands of freshman Jake Van Tubbergen, sealing the 66-62 victory for GVSU. 

With the game being as intense as it was, the postgame felt like a huge weight off coach Wesley’s shoulders.

“My blood pressure is terrible, and that game had its sense of uncertainty at points,” Wesley said. “But our guys kept their focus and made the stops they needed to at the end.”

Van Tubbergen and sophomore Hunter Hale led the Lakers with 13 points each, along with a combined 17 of the team’s 42 total rebounds. Sophomore guard Ben Lubitz added 12 points (4-10 FG, 2-5 3PT), while Miller finished with 11 in a game-high 37 minutes.

GVSU 81, Ferris State 87

With just one day of rest, the Lakers had to not only repeat but enhance their previous performance against the No. 5 nationally ranked Ferris State Bulldogs at home on Saturday, Jan. 20.

Playing in front of a packed and enthusiastic home crowd, the Lakers carried that momentum early on into the contest. Leading the offense was Miller, who not only created multiple open-shot opportunities, but converted them, finishing the half with a game-high 12 points (6-11 FG). 

By the end of the first half, GVSU took a narrow 43-42 lead over the bulldogs. The Lakers’ offense shot 53 percent from the field, while their defense caught Ferris off guard for a 41-percent clip.

However, the Lakers came out the second half flat, allowing 9 straight points to put them down 54-45 with 17:17 remaining. 

The GVSU offense needed to get back quickly, and luckily for them, Hale delivered with four consecutive confident 3-point makes to take back the lead at 64-63 with 11:42 remaining. With every single attempt going in for Hale, he knew something special was unfolding.

“When you see one or two go through the rim, it feels like the rim’s just huge,” Hale said. “After one or two makes, I’m just like, ‘All right, I’m shooting every time I touch it.’ If you have the opportunity, I’m going to take it.”

For the next 10 minutes, both teams battled back and forth for the lead. But excessive foul calls against the Lakers gave the Bulldogs too many free-throw attempts to keep the game close. 

Final score: Ferris 87, GVSU 81.

Hale led all players with 22 points (8-13 FG, 6-10 3PT), while Miller added 21 (10-21 FG), eight rebounds and four assists.

Although the pain of losing never feels good, knowing GVSU can compete with the best of them is what coach Wesley took away from the contest. 

“I’m just disappointed we didn’t win, but certainly not disappointed in our team,” Wesley said. “I thought our team battled pretty hard. Great game, great crowd, great atmosphere. Probably the best atmosphere we’ve had all year. Hopefully we can continue to get the butts in the seats like tonight. It made it fun for everybody. It’s just a tough week playing Lake State and (Ferris State) back to back, the scheduling doesn’t do us any favors.”

The Lakers will look to continue the solid play against Purdue Northwest on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the GVSU Fieldhouse.