Playing 40 minutes of basketball against the Grand Valley State Lakers can be likened to spending a night rolling around in a Maytag industrial washer. By the time the night's up, the head spins and the body is bruised.
The Lakers are one of the GLIAC's - and the nation's - best defensive teams year after year. Few teams consistently play physical defense and control the clock like the Lakers do. Thursday night (Nov. 29) at AU's Kates Gymnasium, those traits helped Grand Valley State come from behind to defeat the Eagles, 66-57. This was the GLIAC opener for both teams.
Ashland (1-2) was ahead, 29-23 at halftime and had its largest lead of the night, 35-27 with 15:55 left in regulation. Several minutes later, the GVSU defense began to turn the game's momentum. With 10:51 left, Ashland led, 40-38. With 8:30 to go, the teams were tied for the sixth time, 43-43. The Lakers (4-1) went ahead to stay, 46-43 on a triple by point guard Breland Hogan with 8:05 to go.
In the final 8:30, Ashland was outscored, 23-14. Ashland was outrebounded, 18-10 in the second half.
"We needed to get the ball inside more," lamented AU head coach John Ellenwood. "We missed some free throws at key points in the game. They did a good job of mixing up their defenses against us. We needed to do a better job of attacking during that lull. Unfortunately, our offense probably dictated what we did on defense."
When GVSU went to a zone, there was very little open space inside. This Laker team is not lacking in size - especially when 6-8 forwards Tyrone Lee and Kristers Zeiaks are in the game.
"They said, 'You guys are going to pass on the perimeter," noted Ellenwood. "Grand Valley is probably as long as any team in the league."
AU put itself in a good position for the second half by playing an excellent opening 20 minutes. The Lakers did what they usually do, limiting possessions and playing a moderate pace, but that didn't deter the Eagles in any way. The first half was a back-and-forth affair. Ashland pulled away a bit in the closing minutes, outscoring the Lakers, 8-3 in the final 2:45.
As Ellenwood pointed out, the Eagles didn't help themselves at the free throw line where they went 6-for-12. GVSU, in contrast, was 21-of-23 (91.3 percent). Much of AU's success revolves around senior forward Evan Yates (Cincinnati, Ohio/Walnut Hills). Yates had a double-double in each of AU's first two games. He had six points and six rebounds in the first half, but ended the game with nine points and nine points. Foul trouble dogged him in the second half. Yates picked up his third foul with 9:41 left in the game and was whistled for his fourth foul with 7:28 to go.
GVSU received 15 points and eight rebounds from Zeidaks, who is in his first season with the Lakers. Lee had 11 points and five rebounds and Hogan and guard Ryan Sabin had 10 points each. Zeidaks had 12 points in the second half and Lee scored nine points after the intermission.
The loss put an end to a 12-game home winning streak for Ashland dating back to last season. A year ago the Eagles were 12-2 at Kates Gymnasium.
The Eagles return to action on Saturday (Dec. 1, 1 p.m.) when they host Ferris State.