The Ashland University men's basketball team overcame a 22-point second-half deficit to beat visiting Northern Michigan, 83-72, in overtime in the GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal at Kates Gymnasium on Wednesday (Feb. 28) night.
In what will go down as one of the wildest games historic Kates Gymnasium has ever seen, the Eagles, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, trailed by a 49-27 count early in the second half.
Ashland (20-9) slowly chipped away at the lead in the second half and had it down to 15, 54-39, with 13 minutes left.
That is when the Eagles started a 14-2 run over a four-minute stretch, forcing the No. 5-seed Wildcats (15-13) to go 1-for-5 with a turnover in that stretch while AU went 6-for-7 from the field.
NMU scored the next five points to spread the margin back to eight points, 61-53, but AU scored the next seven, the final three on a triple by redshirt-senior forward Wendell Davis, who fought through an off-shooting night to still finish with 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Senior forward Marsalis Hamilton, who led AU with 21 points and eight assists, scored on a layup with three minutes left to cut the Northern Michigan lead to 63-62.
"You're just repeating in your head, we're going to win the game. 1-2-3, win." Hamilton said. "Just make winning plays and trust each other."
The teams then traded multiple possessions without scoring before senior center Drew Noble drew a foul and sank both free throws to give the Eagles their first lead since eight minutes were left in the first half.
"There's highs and lows, so we just needed to get one stop at a time. It's all about one stop at a time," Noble said. "There isn't a 19-point play or a 22-point play. You just have to get stops and scores and do it one step at a time. We were just chipping away."
Naba Echols, who scored 19 of his game-high 28 points in the first half, then hit two free throws with 1:05 remaining to give the Wildcats a 65-64 lead. Echols shot 1-for-12 after halftime.
After an Ashland turnover, the Eagles forced Echols into a tough miss with Noble collecting the board.
"We just couldn't let (Echols) feel comfortable like he did before halftime," said AU head coach John Ellenwood. "We're going to force him into the trees and find a way to contest his shots. He did a really good job of getting to the free throw line."
The Eagles, down a point with the ball, elected not to call timeout and worked the ball down to Hamilton, who drew a blocking call under the basket. The senior made the first free throw to tie the game, but missed the second and the ball went out-of-bounds.
Echols' 40-foot heave at the buzzer back-rimmed to send the game to overtime.
The Eagles commanded overtime from the start as redshirt-junior guard Ben Haraway dropped in a 3-pointer to start the period. Redshirt-freshman wing Aaron Thompson drew the assignment on Echols and held him to 0-for-4 shooting in the overtime period.
"It's all about team defense," Thompson said. "We all know who on the court can do what and it's just about playing team defense and taking it away."
Ashland scored the first seven points of overtime, getting a short jumper from Hamilton and a put-back by Thompson to stretch the lead.
After Davis hit two free throws to give the Eagles a 77-68 lead with one minute left, the Eagles forced a miss and Hamilton leaked out in transition on the long rebound and hammered home the exclamation point.
In the first half, the Eagles had an 11-2 lead until the Wildcats made their second field goal of the game with 11:53 left in the period. Northern Michigan went on an incredible run the rest of the way, outscoring Ashland, 42-16, in the last 12 minutes before halftime. The Wildcats were 10-for-15 from 3-point range in the first half, but went 2-for-11 after that.
Noble joined Hamilton with 20 points and a career-high 16 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Thompson finished with 11 points and six rebounds while Haraway added 10 points, three assists and three blocks.