The Ashland University men's basketball team punished Saginaw Valley State in the paint for 42 points and used its size to gain a 41-32 advantage on the glass as the Eagles pounded the Cardinals, 82-64, on Thursday (Feb. 22) night at Kates Gymnasium.
The much-needed win helped the Eagles move closer to hosting a first round game in the GLIAC Tournament, which starts next Wednesday.
Ashland (18-9, 11-8 GLIAC) got 23 points from senior forward Wendell Davis and redshirt-freshman wing Aaron Thompson recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, which matched and set career highs, respectively.
More importantly, the Eagles put the clamps on Saginaw Valley State guard Mike Wells Jr., who scored 31 points in the second half of the Cardinals' win over Ashland last month. AU held him to just nine points, seven below his season average, on 4-for-15 shooting.
Thompson and redshirt-junior guard Ben Haraway were the main cogs in charge of checking Wells and their efforts were rewarded.
"A lot of our game plan was making sure we were coming over screens right and keeping him contained," said Thompson.
Despite coming up empty on their first five offensive possessions, the Eagles battled through it and led 27-11 with seven minutes left in the first half. AU forced the Cardinals (11-16, 8-11 GLIAC) to shoot just 31 percent (10-for-32) in the first 20 minutes as the Eagles led 39-22 at the break.
"It's tough to simulate their defense and quickness in practice," said AU head coach John Ellenwood. "It's like feeling out a fighter at the start of a fight, you just have to feel them out before you start throwing some punches. Our defense created a lot of offense today and that's what we needed."
Davis scored 16 of his points in the first half before turning the keys of the offense over to Haraway after halftime. Haraway scored 16 of his 18 points in the last 20 minutes as the Eagles withstood a mini-run by SVSU and never let the margin slip into single digits.
"I told the guys before the game, and I never say this, but my goal was to go for 30 and have that mentality of score, score, score, score," Davis said. "When I do that I put pressure on the defense and guys like Ben and Aaron Thompson follow up by knocking down shots. (Ben) just followed right in after me. When you get my one-punch, Ben's two-punch and then Aaron Thompson playing the way he played, we're a tough team. Sell played a great game as well."
After the lead got down to 11, 47-36, with 14 minutes left, the Eagles scored on their next five possessions to stretch the lead to 59-40. Haraway hit two 3-pointers in that stretch.
All five starters scored in double figures with senior forward Marsalis Hamilton and sophomore center Drew Noble contributing 10 points apiece. Thompson added two assists, two blocks and two steals to his 14 and 10.
"He's getting better every game and that's what I love," Ellenwood said. "He can play defense as well. We need guys stepping up at this time of year and he's one of those guys doing that. He's earning more minutes. I love guys that can do it on both ends of the floor and he's doing it on both ends of the floor right now."
Ashland also stymied the Cardinals in the paint, holding them to 32 points and blocking a season-high eight shots. The 6-foot-1 Haraway had three of those blocks and now has 13 in his last nine games.
Fred John Jr. came off the bench to lead the Cardinals with 14 points. Overall SVSU shot just 38 percent (24-for-64) from the field – the 12th time this season Ashland has held a team under 40 percent. The Eagles connected at a 50 percent clip (28-for-56).
The Eagles will conclude the regular season against Northwood on Saturday (Feb. 24) at 3 p.m. at Kates Gymnasium. Ashland will recognize its four seniors prior to the tip-off.