Men’s basketball goes 3-1 over break, pushes record to 8-7


GVL / Bethann Long

Brian Bloom, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University men’s basketball is now 8-7 after two out-of-state GLIAC battles that ended in a 72-81 loss against Wisconsin-Parkside on Jan. 5 and a 74-62 win against Purdue-Northwest (PNW) on Jan. 7. 

Although the Lakers have been plagued by injuries and continue to work on building a sense of identity, the victory against PNW makes it their fifth win in their last six games.

“Injuries have been an issue and chemistry is a huge component,” said Head Coach Cornell Mann. “When the guys come back (from a long break), we have to reconvene and we have to get the chemistry back.”

Coming off of a 72-69 nail-biter against McKendree University on Dec. 18 and a dominant 93-45 victory over Aquinas College on Dec. 31, the Lakers came into De Simone Arena and kept the game close all throughout the first half. 

After a quick 0-6 run by the Parkside Rangers to take a 9-11 lead over GVSU, true freshman guard Jalen Charity drilled a three-pointer to swing the lead back to the Lakers with 15:12 left to play in the first half.

Later in the half, GVSU began to pull away as graduate student forward Chinedu Kingsley-Okanu scored four quick points, and redshirt freshman guard Trevor Smith stole the ball and scored it on the other end to extend the Lakers to a 21-15 lead. The remainder of the half saw both offenses trade buckets as a pair of made jump shots coupled with GVSU misses on their end of the floor helped the Rangers close out the first half on a 2-5 run, taking a slim two-point lead into the locker room at halftime, 31-33.

The offenses carried the momentum they found at the end of the first half into the second, as the teams traded points each trip down the court. Following a layup by junior forward Marius Grazulis that put the GVSU deficit to one score (44-45), the Rangers’ defense began to turn up the intensity as they held the Lakers to just two points in the next three minutes while adding eight of their own, making the score 46-53.

Turnovers and missed shots would allow GVSU to insert themselves back into the game as they managed to cut the lead down to just three points (54-57) with nine minutes left in the game. However, Parkside turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor in an effort to seal the game officially, outscoring the Lakers 18-24 to make the final score 72-81.

The Lakers also struggled to match the favorable offensive output of the Rangers as the opponent shot 57% from the field overall (55% 3 PT) while GVSU shot a collective 45% from the field in a shooting night they looked to move past.

“Our ball-screen defense was not where it needed to be, their point guard got downhill too easily and we couldn’t get consistent stops,” Kingsley-Okanu said. “That’s not good enough (to win games on the road).”

Kingsley-Okanu led his team in the box score with 12 points, four rebounds and five assists while sophomore guard Trevon Gunter added 11 points and three steals followed by nine points each from senior guard Luke Toliver and redshirt freshman forward Parker Day off the bench.

The matchup against Purdue-Northwest later in the week was a bounce-back game for the Lakers as the first of just under eight minutes of play consisted of both teams trading buckets to make the score 14-13. In a neck-and-neck battle, baskets by Grazulis, Charity, Smith and Day helped the team create a sense of fluidity as four-straight free throws made by Toliver would ultimately put the Lakers up 35-32 going into the halftime break. 

The second half saw the Lions take control of the lead as they managed to build their largest lead of the game of just four points (37-41), but would soon lose control as a triple from junior guard Austin James put GVSU up one with 15 minutes remaining. The team’s upperclassmen leadership on the offensive side would close the game in a win for the Lakers, 74-62.

Although the offensive output from James and redshirt senior forward Isaiah Carver-Bagley allowed the team to go on their final offensive run, Mann said the grit showcased by the younger Lakers will only bring positive results for the team entirely.

“The freshmen, even though they’re young, they have a chip on their shoulder,” Mann said. “I think they compete well for freshmen, (and) as we move on in the season they shouldn’t be considered freshmen – they have that experience.”

James scored a career-high 19 points with five three-pointers and two steals coming off the bench. Carver-Bagley added a near double-double, recording 13 points and nine rebounds, and Grazulis added 12 points with seven rebounds.

With just over half of the regular-season schedule behind them, the Lakers look forward to a two-game homestand as they host Wayne State University (Jan. 12) and Saginaw Valley State (Jan. 14).

“Each game is important, (just like) practice is important and our chemistry is very important (to our team),” Mann said. “Our guys know how tough we have to be and how hard we have to play to be successful.”