ALLENDALE, Mich. — Separated by less than 30 miles and only a 20-minute drive down the I-96 Highway, the “Crosstown Rivalry” between GVSU (22-6) and Davenport (19-11) played out more like a heavyweight boxing match than a college basketball game. The two teams played with a chip on their shoulder, looking to win the city of Grand Rapids’ championship belt. They battled back and forth all game, tempers flared (two technicals total between the two teams), the lead changed seven different times, and each team led by at least eight points at different spots in the contest.
But GVSU, Junior Guard, Isaac “Green Light” Gassman was the difference maker — Scoring a team-high 24 points on 6-8 shooting from the behind the three-point line and hitting huge shots at key junctures of the game.
“When your first couple shots start going in you know you’re going to have a good night,” Gassman said. “It’s a team game and we have too much talent to not play well in these games.”
The biggest bucket of the night came with GVSU leading 55-53, with 6:10 remaining in the second half. Senior Guard, Jeremiah Ferguson passed it to Gassman on the wing and after a quick pump-fake sent a Davenport defender flying past him, he landed the knockout blow and celebrated with a three-finger salute.
“I could tell from the way they were closing out that they were running past my toes,” Gassman said. “I work on that shot (pump-fake) a lot and the shout-out to the managers, they rebound for me all the time.”
Despite Gassman’s shooting, the Lakers still had trouble closing out the Panthers due to Chris Rollins and Chris Pearl, who combined for 50 of Davenport’s 66 points and were virtually unguardable.
“He’s (Rollins) got a tremendous first step and then when he gets there (in the paint), he’s a good passer,” Head Coach Ric Wesley said. “We didn’t really do a good job on him (Rollins) at all, he kept getting inside our defense.”
But Wesley and GVSU had answers for the Panthers 1-2 punch, mixing in different zones (mostly 2-3) throughout the second half to slow down Davenport’s offense.
“We’ve switched up defenses a lot this year,” Gassman said. “Today was a perfect example of how (something) we worked on in practice and it really coming through, they didn’t know what do to (against our zone).”
But Gassman wasn’t alone on the offensive end, GVSU dominated inside with Junior Christian Negron (6’7 Forward) having a career night, scoring 20 points and Sophomore Jake Van Tubbergen adding 17 boards.
“They (Davenport) try to front us and they have their arms and body on us the entire time, so it’s physical,” Negron said. “There’s a reason they are one of the top teams in GLIAC.”
GVSU pulled away in the final six minutes after Gassman’s clutch three-pointer, closing the game on a 25-13 run to win 75-66, on Senior Night. Where the Lakers honored three seniors: Jayden Hodgson (to honor his native country on Senior Night, the announcers played the Australian National Anthem before tip), Jeremiah Ferguson, and Isaac Gassman. “We got a really great group of seniors,” Wesley said. “We really wanted to send them out the right way.”
All three of the seniors played key roles in last year’s GLIAC Tournament Title and subsequent NCAA Tournament birth, which they hope to achieve again this year… And more.
“This was a big win for us in the conference standings and big for us in regional standings,” Wesley said. “Hopefully, this gives us momentum heading into the conference tournament.”
The Lakers begin tournament play in the GLIAC Quarterfinal, where they will host #7 seed, Ashland, as the #2 seed of the tournament behind Ferris State — Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM.