Fighting until the end: GV men’s basketball ends season with 67-59 loss to Findlay

Beau Troutman

FINDLAY, Ohio—Outside of the locker room after the game, Grand Valley State senior guard Luke Ryskamp gave a big hug to senior forward Trevin Alexander.

The two players, who were named to the All-GLIAC Second Team this year, have played countless games together since they joined the program in 2012 and their names have been synonymous with GVSU hoops the last four seasons.

That entire era, from the day they walked on the practice court as spry freshmen to the last time they posed for pictures at Fieldhouse Arena, came to an end Tuesday night.

“I’ve been battling with Trevin since day one,” Ryskamp said. “Trev is my day one. That’s how we’re going to go out, and that’s probably how it will be for the rest of our lives.”

GVSU men’s basketball was a few missed shots and a game-changing rebound away from keeping its season alive, but the No. 7-seeded Lakers ultimately fell 67-59 to No. 2 seed and No. 18 team in the country Findlay (23-5, 16-4) in the first round of the GLIAC Tournament Tuesday, Feb. 28.

“It’s disappointing,” said GVSU coach Ric Wesley. “It’s always tough to see it come to an end, especially for our seniors, I hate to see it come to an end for those guys. It makes this loss even harder to take. I thought our team competed pretty hard, I thought we did a lot of good things.

“I thought we had a chance.”

The Lakers finished the year at 16-13 (12-10 GLIAC). They were ranked as high as second overall in the GLIAC at times this season, but finished the regular season in seventh place overall in what was a very strong year for the conference. GVSU graduates Ryskamp, Alexander and senior forward Juwan Starks, who transferred to GVSU from Kishwaukee College and performed admirably in his final collegiate season.

Ryskamp finished the season as the team’s leading scorer at 13.6 points per game. Alexander, who’s all-around skill set made him one of the most versatile forwards in the conference, finished with 11.1 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game and was third on the team in assists with 59. Starks was the third leading scorer at 8.8 points per game after coming on strong in the second half of the season.

“Our senior leadership set a good tone for (the team),” Alexander said. “We showed how to compete, how to go about the day-to-day in practice and how to go about life. I hope that resonates into next year. The juniors, their time is short, it’s limited.

“They’re on the clock now.”

The Lakers were within five points of the Oilers for most of the second half. Alexander scored on a second-chance layup to cut Findlay’s lead to 60-57 with a little over two minutes remaining in the game.

The Lakers could barely hear themselves think in Findlay’s Croy Gymnasium—a small box of sound filled with screaming fans—but they were now just three points away from tying the game.

With just under two minutes to go, Findlay’s Taren Sullivan, one of the best players in the conference, missed an easy layup. Alexander pulled up from deep with a chance to tie the game—air ball. After another miss from Sullivan, Starks came off a screen for a good look from the top of the arc, but the shot bounced off the rim, no good.

GVSU’s Zach West fouled UF’s Tyler Stern-Tucker, who would get to the line to shoot a 1-and-1 free throw attempt with just 52 seconds remaining in the game. The Lakers, desperately clinging to the three-point deficit, could only cross their fingers as Stern-Tucker stepped to the line.

They got lucky, but then tragically unlucky. Stern-Tucker missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and the ball appeared to be going out of bounds, which would have given GVSU possession.

Somehow, the impressively athletic Sullivan dove out of bounds, got a hand on the ball and chucked it back inbounds to Findlay guard Elijah Kahlig with GVSU senior Ryskamp defending him. On what looked to be sound defense by Ryskamp, one of the referees blew a whistle—foul on Ryskamp right in front of the scorer’s table.

“It was just a quick whistle,” Ryskamp said. “I think he maybe predetermined the call a little bit. I think he thought I was going to hack (Kahlig), but that’s not what we wanted to do. I think everyone saw it probably wasn’t a foul, but it is what it is.”

Interestingly, Findlay was able to get into the bonus in both halves, while the Lakers were not. The Lakers shot 6-of-8 from the free throw line, while the Oilers shot 14-of-19. The Lakers were called for 23 personal fouls while the Oilers’ were called for 12.

The Lakers had their fingers crossed yet again, but this time it was hopeless. Kahlig hit both free throws with 44 seconds on the clock, making it a two possession game. GVSU guard Myles Miller sent up a desperation heave a moment later, but it missed and after another suspect foul, Kahlig hit another pair of free throws to make it 64-57.

They never gave up in the last few moments, but it was clear: The 2016-17 season was over.

Starks led the Lakers with 16 points including 4-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Alexander had 11 points with seven rebounds and two blocks. Ryskamp had nine points while sophomore center Justin Greason and junior point guard Chris Dorsey each added eight. The GVSU defense held last week’s NCAA Player of the Week, Findlay guard Martyce Kimbrough, to 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

The Lakers outscored the Oilers 30-27 in the first half, but were outscored 40-29 in the second. GVSU ended the season as the top scoring defense in the GLIAC (67.4 points per game allowed).

“We came in to their house, probably not really expecting to get the calls,” Ryskamp said. “We knew that coming in, so maybe if we were a little bit more aggressive, but sometimes that’s not always the answer. I’m just proud of my team. It’s been a fun year, it was a fun group of guys to be around.”