By: Jerod Fattal
ALLENDALE, Mich. — The Grand Valley State Lakers started extremely slow Thursday night in their ‘Battle of Valleys’ rivalry game against the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals. They were sluggish, getting killed on the offensive boards, missing open shots, and getting beaten in transition by the more energetic SVSU team. Then with 3:25 left in the first half trailing 32-26, the Lakers got their spark.
Senior Guard, Jeremiah Ferguson, slowly dribbled the ball up the court and after slightly jogging around a couple of screens near the top of the key, he settled about three feet behind the arc and let a deep three-pointer fly. He buried it and the floodgates opened. On the ensuing possession, Junior sharpshooter Isaac Gassman ran off a couple of flare screens and buried a three from the corner, tying the game at 32 apiece.
“It was important to finish out the first half, we haven’t been finishing and closing out first half’s very well and we’ve had some really big blunders here at the half lately,” Head Coach, Ric Wesley said. “We’ve talked about that and we just had to be a little bit better (at the end of the first half).”
GVSU finished the half on an 18-5 run in the final 5:45 of the first half and a 13-0 run in the final 3 minutes. The Lakers buried five threes during that stretch, including a huge three from Senior Ben Lubitz at the buzzer to swing all of the momentum away from the Cardinals and give them a 39-32 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
The Lakers, led by Gassman with 19 points and five made threes didn’t look back as they tied the school record (set by the 2006 team in a game against Ashland) with sixteen threes from all over the GVSU Fieldhouse. Senior Jayden Hodgson was also deadly from deep, scoring 15 points on 5-6 shooting from three.
“It didn’t feel like we were on fire (from three) because I thought we had good shots,” Wesley said. “The ball movement was really good and we didn’t force any bad shots.”
But this was far from just an offensive effort. The 68.2 PPG defense was also instrumental in the rivalry win, mixing in a 2-3 zone throughout the game to keep SVSU guessing on the offensive end.
“I think it’s good for us (to mix in a zone defense), I mean I watch a lot of teams and zone is something you can go to especially at the end of games,” Hodgson said. “It takes teams out of rhythm and it conserves some energy.”
The Lakers also keyed on the Cardinal’s Junior guard and former Eastern Michigan Eagle, Malik Ellison, holding him to just 16 points on 7-18 shooting by deploying double teams on pick and rolls and throwing multple different defenders at him throughout the game.
The two rival teams traded buckets throughout the first 13 minutes of the second half, but with 7:39 left in the game and GVSU clinging to a 64-55 lead, the Lakers delivered the knockout blow. Coming out of the under eight minutes media timeout, with the Lakers inbounding the ball underneath their own hoop, Gassman found Junior Christian Negron for an alley-oop jam after a perfectly baseline out of bounds play.
“You feel great as a coach (dialing up a perfect inbounds play), especially when they are right in front of our bench, it’s always like we got them,” Wesley said. “They (baseline inbounds plays) are about 8% of your offense, it’s important and we are the best in our league, usually.”
GVSU coasted the rest of the way on the shoulders of Ferguson, who facilitated the historic night on offense with 17 points and 8 assists, leading the Lakers to an 86-74 victory over SVSU.
“Really excited to get this win, it puts us at 20 wins on the season and that’s always a significant accomplishment,” Wesley said. “Obviously we want to do more, but this was something to celebrate tonight.”
The Lakers will look to add to their win total and remain atop the GLIAC conference on Saturday, traveling to Northwood for their next game against the 13-10 Timberwolves, tip-off is set for 6:00 PM.