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(Players: Daniel Sutherlin, Justin Keenan & Coach Bill Sall)
Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University men's basketball team rallied from a 14-point first half deficit to capture a thrilling 84-66 victory over nationally third-ranked Findlay on Saturday (Feb. 19) afternoon on a memorable day at FSU's Jim Wink Arena.
The win gave the Bulldogs the outright Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) North Division Championship and the inside track to potentially hosting the semifinals and finals of the GLIAC Tournament in early March.
The divisional title is FSU's third under ninth-year head coach Bill Sall and the program's first since winning back-to-back GLIAC North crowns in 2003-04 and 2004-05. With the victory, which was FSU's 12th-straight win and 14th in the last 15 games, the Bulldogs improved to 20-5 overall and hold the league's top overall record at 16-2 this campaign.
"We were 3-2 at the conference in one time this year and I don't think anyone thought we would be where we are today," said Sall. "It's a testament to hard work, perseverance and guys who enjoy playing togther. They love to play with each other and they love basketball. It doesn't hurt to have great players and we certainly have that too."
Besides winning the division, Ferris State senior forward/center Justin Keenan (Grand Rapids/Ottawa Hills) also tied former Grand Valley State standout John Flynn as the GLIAC's all-time career scoring leader (based on league games). Both players have now totaled 1,531 career points in conference regular-season action with Keenan needing one more point to hold the league's all-time scoring title on his own heading into next Saturday's (Feb. 26) regular-season finale against rival Grand Valley State at Wink Arena.
"It feels great," Keenan said. "This has been a culmination of four years and this year we controlled our own destiny and we made it happen. I'm so proud of my teammates. Everybody on this team steps up on different nights and I can't be more proud of them."
Findlay jumped out to an early advantage with Keenan on the bench for stretches of the first half. He picked up two quick fouls and later added a third personal foul with 4:21 left in the first half. The Oilers took advantage as they built a 14-point edge with 9:17 to go in the first frame.
However, the Bulldogs battled back with key contributions from several individuals as FSU managed to tie the game back up at 34 points apiece at halftime. Findlay led by seven when Keenan picked up his third foul late in the period, but FSU closed the half on a 12-5 run, which included back-to-back three-point baskets from senior forward Matt DeHart (Greenville) with a minute to go in the period.
The game remained virtually even for the first seven minutes of the second half before the Bulldogs started to take control before a vocal crowd of 1,138 fans on their home floor. Five-straight points from senior guard Darien Gay (Detroit/Henry Ford) followed by a dunk from sophomore forward Daniel Sutherlin (Detroit/Renaissance) and a three-pointer from reserve guard Brandyn Mungo (Westland/Detroit Renaissance) gave the Bulldogs their first double-digit lead at 10 points with 10:25 remaining.
The Oilers came back and pulled within four points at the eight minute mark, but the Bulldogs proceeded to go on an 11-0 run to push the lead back to 15 points and never trailed by less than 11 points again.
Ferris State was paced by Keenan's 19 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes of action. He was joined in double-figures by Gay with 16 points along with 12 points apiece from Sutherlin and senior forward Lou Williams (Muskegon Heights). Junior guard Dontae Molden (Detroit/Pershing) chipped in with 11 points while DeHart added eight points and Mungo scored six.
The Bulldogs shot 50.9% (29-57) from the floor and made seven-of-13 (53.8%) three-pointers and 19-of-29 (65.5%) free throws. FSU shot 66.7% (18-27) overall in the second half of play after shooting only 36.7% (11-30) in the first half of action.
Additionally, the Bulldogs also owned a 35-33 rebounding edge and had just six turnovers in the game while forcing 14 Oiler miscues. They also held Findlay to 38.6% (22-57) shooting, which included a nine-of-30 (30%) figure from beyond the arc. Findlay sank 13-of-15 (86.7%) free throws.
The Oilers were led by Kyle Caiola's 13 points with Aaron Robinson adding 12 points and Nathan Hyde totaling 11 points in the setback for UF, which fell to 21-3 overall and 14-3 in the GLIAC.
Ferris dished out 17 assists as Molden totaled eight helpers and Gay handed out five dimes. The Bulldogs also had six steals and four blocked shots, all of which came from Williams, who holds all of FSU's blocked shots records. Findlay recorded 10 assists to go with a single steal and one block.
The Bulldogs' effort taking care of the ball resulted in a decisive 25-3 edge in points off turnovers and FSU also owned a 16-6 advantage in second chance scoring with both teams grabbing 10 offensive caroms. Ferris also totaled 12 fast break points compared to only two for the Oilers.
Ferris State improved to 12-0 overall at home this season as the Bulldogs kept their unbeaten streak intact at Wink Arena. In addition to giving FSU the upper hand into potentially hosting the GLIAC Semifinals/Finals, the victory assured Ferris State of a GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal-round home game on Wednesday, March 2.
Saturday's win was FSU's second-straight against the Oilers in Big Rapids following last year's triumph at Wink Arena. It is only the third Bulldog victory over UF in the last 46 years.
The victory was also an important regional one for Ferris, which entered the week ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Rankings, but has since beat third-ranked Findlay and the region's sixth-ranked squad in Wayne State on Thursday (Feb. 17). The top eight teams at the end of the year will earn bids into the NCAA-II Tournament.
Ferris State will host Grand Valley State in the regular-season finale on Saturday, Feb. 26, at Wink Arena. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. (ET) and a special "1,000 Wins Celebration" is planned to commemorate the program's 1,000th victory earlier this month. All former players have been invited back to celebrate the occassion.
Bulldog Bites: The lead changed hands six times and the score was tied seven times ..... Justin Keenan reached double-digits for the 103rd time in his 109 career contests ...... The Bulldogs celebrate the North Division crown as fans rushed the floor and the squad cut down the nets at the conclusion of the contest ..... Both Keenan and Daniel Sutherlin had two steals apiece for the Bulldogs ....... FSU outscored Findlay 30-26 in the paint for the game ..... Findlay had won 15 of the previous 17 series' contests heading into the game ...... The Bulldogs' 20 victories to date this year are the program's most since reaching the NCAA Division II Sweet Sixteen with a 24-7 mark in 2004-05 and the Bulldogs' 16 league wins are now tied for the most in school history along with the perfect 16-0 GLIAC record recorded in 1988-89.