Plug in extra energy from unfazed teammates new to the grandest stage in NCAA Division III basketball, and the Flying Dutchmen proved unbeatable Wednesday night against Calvin.
Hope marched to an 87-67 win over the Knights that marked the Flying Dutchmen's largest margin of victory against Calvin since a 93-70 win during the 1995-96 season.
Hope (14-4 overall) also seized a two-game lead in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association standings with the first half of league play complete. The Flying Dutchmen are up two games on second-place Calvin and three on third-place Alma and Trine.
A 12-0 run the final 2 minutes, 52 seconds before halftime put the game out of reach. Hope stormed into the locker room with a 47-30 lead.
"We talk about trying to really enjoy the game and I think when you're loose and making plays, especially defensive plays, it's sort of a turnover-for-touchdown mentality," head coach Greg Mitchell said. "Everybody wanted to be a part of it. This game can swallow you up at times and can turn champs into chumps.
"Or, if guys are ready for the moment and trust their teammates and believe in the game plan, good things can happen."
Blackledge, the game's leading scorer with a personal-best 25 points against Calvin, agreed.
"That last run was such an example of seeing the whole team buy into the game plan - huge plays by everyone," Blackledge said after his team's third consecutive win in The Rivalry and second in a row at Van Noord Arena. "That is what makes this team so exciting."
Blackledge, who grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, had plenty of help as the Flying Dutchmen won their seventh MIAA game in as many tries.
Carlson chipped in a personal-best 15 points against Calvin. The senior guard from Rockford, Michigan (Rockford) buried three of the Flying Dutchmen's nine 3-pointer to give him 156 3s for his career and passing former teammate Alex Eidson for fourth place among Hope's career leaders.
Carlson scored 13 points in the first half alone.
Stuive, the senior forward from Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville), added 11 points, while the Flying Dutchmen's other starters contributed nine points (Teddy Ray) and eight points (Dante Hawkins), respectively.
Ray, a sophomore from Fort Wayne, Indiana (Homestead), was making his first start in The Rivalry.
Off the bench, senior guard Mitchell O'Brien of Manteno, Illinois (Bishop McNamara) dished out a team-high five assists to go along with five rebounds and four points.
Sophomore forward Dennis Towns of Flint, Michigan (Powers Catholic) also appeared in his first Rivalry game and contributed low-post defense, rebounding and shotmaking over 15 minutes as he filled in for a senior in Keith Brushwyler who was limited because of illness.
Junior guard Luke Dreyer of Zeeland, Michigan (West) helped as well off the bench in 11 minutes of hustle and defense.
The Flying Dutchmen begin the second half of MIAA play on Saturday, Jan. 28 with a 7:30 p.m. Purple Community game against Albion at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Hope will don purple to help raise funds for Van Andel Institute's biomedical research and science education efforts.