The Ashland University men's basketball team grinded out an impressive 69-62 win over visiting Lake Superior State on Thursday (Feb. 8) night at Kates Gymnasium.
Ashland improved to 11-1 at Kates Gymnasium with the win and the Eagles have won 10 straight in the building.
The Lakers (17-6, 11-4 GLIAC) came into the game in second place in the GLIAC standings and as the second-highest scoring offense in the league, but the Eagles (16-7, 9-6 GLIAC) were strong on the defensive end.
Ashland held Lake Superior State to just 36.1 percent (22-for-61) shooting from the field and limited all-region guard Akaemji Williams to 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting to go with five assists and seven turnovers. LSSU came into the game averaging 81 points per game.
Redshirt-junior guard Ben Haraway drew the assignment against Williams and had one of his best games of the season on both ends. Haraway matched Williams with 18 points, but on 7-for-9 shooting, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts.
"It was big that we held him to six points (in the first half)," said Haraway. "He can really score and he's tough to stop. Our guys just went out there and played hard. Coach put together a good game plan to stop him and we did a good job executing."
"Ben Haraway played great," said senior forward Wendell Davis. "Before the game, I told Ben, 'in order for us to win this game, we all have to play great.' That doesn't mean scoring. That means defense, being vocal, understanding the game and playing hard. Ben Haraway knew coming in this was a tough challenge. Akaemji is averaging 18 and eight. He embraced the challenge of going at (Williams) and playing defense. Defensively, he gave him a lot of problems. That was 40 minutes of great defense, offense and communication.
The Eagles actually never trailed in the game as they played with energy from the opening tip to take a 15-6 lead after eight minutes.
"Our guys did a great job executing the game plan," said ninth-year head coach John Ellenwood. "They're such a good offensive team. They have the best point guard in the league, maybe the country. It's not an easy thing to guard them and Akaemji is the engine that makes them go. You have to be dialed in to guard them."
Davis scored the final seven points of that stretch and finished with 18 points on 5-for-7 shooting. More significantly, he surpassed Larry Aulger (1959-63) to move into second place on Ashland's all-time scoring list. He now has 1,806 career points.
"It's a great accomplishment," said Davis. "I'm honored, I'm blessed. Thanks to God I was able to get back this year. I thank all of my teammates from my freshman year to this year, because without them I wouldn't have been able to score as many points as I did. I thank (athletic trainer) J.R. (Bonham) and Dr. (Matthew) Bernhard for getting me back on the court, because there was a point in time I didn't know if I'd be able to play again. Those guys did a great job with me and pushed me to limits I didn't know I had. I was able to come back this year and have an impact on my team.
"The points are great, but I never thought coming in I would be second all-time in points. I used to see guys who scored 2,000 and I'm like, 'that's incredible.' Now I'm looking at 1,800 and it's incredible."
Haraway followed Davis' lead and went on his own 8-0 solo run that helped the Eagles stretch their lead to 25-8 with 8:35 left in the first half.
"I was trying to be aggressive," said Haraway. "It's so much easier to score when we're moving the ball well and that's what Coach has been preaching to us all week. I just found my opportunities to shoot and I was making them today."
AU led by as many as 18 points in the first half and took a 35-24 lead into halftime as the Lakers closed the period on a 5-0 run in the final 90 seconds.
The Lakers looked like they were climbing back into the game on multiple occasions in the second half, but the Eagles got baskets when they needed them.
AU had a 42-33 lead with 14:29 left before scoring the next six points on layups by Davis, junior forward Phil Frentsos and Haraway. Frentsos' slam with nine minutes left gave the Eagles a 58-40 lead, but the Lakers ran off the next six points to get back in the game.
The Lakers eventually used an 8-0 run to work the margin down to 64-59 with two minutes left. They had a chance to cut it further, but Williams missed a pull-up 3-pointer and Davis collected the rebound.
Carson Manger's bucket with 1:04 left cut AU's lead to 66-62. The Eagles ran their next possession down to the buzzer, but Haraway broke down the defense and scored a lefty layup as the shot clock expired to push the advantange back to six and put the game away.
"When we realize the shot clock is going down, we have guys that can create their own shots and that's an ability that I can give," said Harway. "I saw a situation and knew I could get to the rim. I knew Akaemji was in foul trouble, so I could be aggressive there."
Senior forward Marsalis Hamilton joined Davis and Haraway in double figures with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The trio combined to shoot 73 percent (19-for-26) from the field.
AU's offense was nearly doomed by turnovers as the Eagles committed 24 miscues, including 14 in the second half that allowed the Lakers to inch back into the game. Ashland shot 58 percent (25-for-43) from the field and went 20-for-28 (71 percent) inside the arc.
It was the defense that kept the lead afloat. Williams was the only LSSU player in double figures. Michael Nicholson had nine points and 11 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass.
The task won't get easier on Saturday (Feb. 10) when the Eagles play host to No. 3 Ferris State (24-1, 14-1 GLIAC) at Kates Gymnasium. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m.