The Ashland University men's basketball team turned in a gritty performance on Saturday (Dec. 1) and came away with a 91-88 win over defending national champion Ferris State at Kates Gymnasium.
The Eagles (6-0, 2-0 GLIAC) remained undefeated on the season as they defeated the Bulldogs (5-5, 0-2 GLIAC) for the first time since Dec. 5, 2015.
"Those types of games are so fun, both teams are competing so hard, and it's just a dogfight out there," said senior guard Ben Haraway. "Those are the games we live for. It felt like we were in a GLIAC Tournament game playing for our lives."
Ashland was incredible down the stretch, going 3-for-4 from the field and 12-for-12 from the free throw line in the final five minutes. Junior center Drew Noble had a career game, going for 33 points, five rebounds and four blocks. He was 10-for-18 from the floor and sank all 13 of his free throws, including eight in the last five minutes.
"It's awesome having Drew, he makes the game easy on us," Haraway said. "When things slow down we always know we can get it into Drew and he can make something happen, whether it's to score or kick out and get us a drive and open three."
"He's a great big man and he knows that. He knew he needed to be a focal point," said head coach John Ellenwood. "He didn't miss a free throw today and played 37 minutes. There's not many big men that have the heart to do that. He's a tough kid. He did it all for us today when he needed him to."
Noble gave the Eagles an 85-84 lead with 1:25 left on a couple free throws. Ferris State had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, but redshirt-sophomore wing Aaron Thompson got a steal and went the other way for a fastbreak layup to push the Eagles ahead 87-84.
On the Bulldogs' next trip, Greg Williams missed a 3-pointer and Thompson ripped away a rebound from Jaylin McFadden. AU missed on its next possession and McFadden scored to cut it to 87-86 with 23 seconds left.
The Bulldogs were forced to foul and Haraway two free throws before D'Angelo Hughes made it 89-88 to Ashland with 12 seconds remaining. Junior guard Rodrick Caldwell then nailed down two free throws to make it 91-88.
Hughes' 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer came up short and the rebound caromed away from the basket as time expired.
"I think they showed a lot of toughness and grit," Ellenwood said. "We were holding on for dear life, but you see the scoreboard down to two minutes and the guys see the finish line. It was the toughness and grit we needed to gut it out."
The game featured 14 lead changes and 11 tie scores.
"We had to stay level-headed and confident in ourselves," Caldwell said. "Once we got those couple stops at the end, we knew we won."
The Bulldogs led by as many as six in the first half, but a 12-5 run late in the period stretch Ashland's lead to 45-37 with Haraway capping he burst with a 3-pointer. The Eagles' lead with 45-39 at halftime.
In the second half, the Eagles turned to Noble, who was simply dominant with his array of post moves. He scored 26 of his points after halftime, going 8-for-11 from the field.
"Drew is probably the most unselfish big man," Caldwell said. "It feels good, because most games he's looking to pass. It feels good when he gets to go off, because he deserves it. I was happy for him."
"I've got great guards around me, so they had to go one-on-one on me I just tried to get to my spot and score or kick out," said Noble.
Haraway finished with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting while Caldwell had 17 points and shot 6-for-11 from the floor. Thompson racked up a double-double with 12 points and 14 boards, while shooting 6-for-9.
The Eagles also committed just 10 turnovers against Ferris State's fullcourt press as Haraway and Caldwell handled it expertly.
Ashland shot 58.2 percent (32-for-55) from the field and 91.3 percent (21-for-23) from the line. Ferris hit 50 percent (37-for-74) of its shots.
Hughes led the Bulldogs with 20 points. Ferris State had a 33-29 advantage on the boards and the Bulldogs committed just seven turnovers.
The Eagles will resume GLIAC play on Thursday (Dec. 6) at 8 p.m. when they travel to Grand Valley State.