*PRINT ONLY* MBB Hillsdale

Jay Bushen

HEADLINE: Ryskamp, Hayes lead Lakers to pivotal win

SUBHEAD: GV handles Hillsdale, gains ground in race for final tournament spot

By Jay Bushen

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With a healthy A.J. Hayes in the lineup, the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team has its swagger back.

GVSU led Hillsdale, 10-7, when Hayes first checked in at the 15:46 mark in the first half of Saturday night’s must-win game at Fieldhouse Arena. With quick feet, tenacious defense and a little bit of smack talk, the junior point guard immediately made his presence felt.

Hayes knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and scored GVSU’s next nine points, quickly turning a 10-7 game into a 19-12 game. The Lakers had all the momentum they needed, never trailed in the game and cruised past the Chargers for a 77-59 victory on senior night.

The junior college transfer, who recently returned after missing 14 games with his second hamstring injury of the season, finished with 17 points in 18 minutes. He was one of four Lakers to score in double figures with Luke Ryskamp (19 points, seven rebounds), Ryan Sabin (12 points) and Trevin Alexander (11 points, 10 rebounds).

Offensively, Hayes said he is the missing piece for GVSU.

“They already know I can drive, can’t nobody guard me in this league,” he said. “You know what I mean? I can get past anybody. They already know that, so when I shoot the 3 and I’ve got so many shooters on my side – I got Sabe, I got DK, I got Luke – we’re unstoppable.”

In his first three games back, Hayes is scoring 15.3 points in 18.3 minutes per night.

The Lakers (13-14, 9-12 GLIAC) are 3-0 in those games, meaning the team is still in the four-team hunt for the eighth and final GLIAC Tournament seed with one game left to play. The other teams are Northwood (10-11 GLIAC), Hillsdale (10-11) and Malone (9-12).

GVSU needs losses from Northwood and Hillsdale to have a chance. The Timberwolves and Chargers both play at home on Thursday, but they’ll be taking on the top two teams in the conference, Lake Superior State (18-3) and Saginaw Valley State (16-5), respectively.

If Northwood and Hillsdale lose, the Lakers will need to rely on tiebreakers. They’ll also have to take down their GLIAC North nemesis, Ferris State (15-6), in Big Rapids, Mich.

“It’s nice that we’re getting some momentum and some positive results here at the end of our season,” said GVSU coach Ric Wesley. “If it works out that we work our way in, that would be the icing on the cake.”

Wesley said the win over Hillsdale was one of GVSU’s better defensive games from start to finish. The Lakers forced 12 turnovers, blocked four shots and had five steals. They shot 26-of-31 from the free-throw line, as well, and outscored the Chargers by 16 points in the second half.

He also said he was impressed by the play of Alexander, who made a difference in the paint by recording a double-double, and the performance of Hayes off the bench.

“He can make the 3, he can drive to the basket and it’s very difficult to pressure him when he’s in there,” Wesley said. “I think everybody feels a little extra sense of confidence when he’s in there because he’s another effective offensive player.

“He’s really made a difference in our offense.”

Ryskamp came up big for GVSU, scoring in double figures for the 17th time in his last 18 games. His defensive play was key early on, and his dunk at the 9:29 mark in the second half put the exclamation point on the one-sided affair.

Two GVSU seniors, Sabin and center Darren Washington (six points, five fouls, three rebounds), also made a difference in their last home game. The victory gives them a chance to potentially extend their playing careers with a win at FSU on Thursday.

“It’s going to be a battle anytime you play Ferris,” Sabin said. “It’s our biggest rival, so we’re going to try and spoil their senior night. We’ll see.”

The Bulldogs handed GVSU a 96-85 overtime loss when the teams last met in Allendale on Feb. 2.

Hayes did not play in that game.

“We’re going to get it,” he said. “No doubt in my mind. We’re going to win.”