By Eva Dean Folkert
Excellent ball movement, improved defense, selfless teamwork, and stellar shooting percentages all added up to give the Flying Dutchmen "our best game by far from start to finish," said head coach Greg Mitchell. In doing so, Hope's 94-84 win, and the style in which they earned it against Mount University on Friday night in DeVos Fieldhouse, was a nice welcome-home gift for the road-weary team in the first-round of Russ DeVette/Holland Sentinel Classic.
"There is nothing like momentum and there is nothing like seizing it on your home court," added Mitchell. "We only have three of 11 games in our friendly confines (before the upcoming league schedule) and this is the second one tonight. So I thought we utilized our home court comfort well in seeing the ball go through the hoop."
With the win, Hope moves to 5-5 while the Purple Raiders are 7-3.
"It's good to get to .500 and get going in the right direction," said senior captain Dante Hawkins of Holland, Michigan (Holland HS). "I think tonight just got us over the hump and really boosted morale and shows us we can finish games."
The start of the game looked like it would be another close contest for the Flying Dutchmen as Mount Union held the lead, albeit slim ones, most often in the first 10 minutes of play. But in three minutes, between 9:41 and 6:21, guard Hawkins and junior forward Teddy Ray of Fort Wayne, Indiana (Homestead HS) combined for 13 points, and Hope claimed a 12-point lead, 33-21, their largest of the half.
By halftime, the Flying Dutch led 40-32 when junior Jason Beckman of Shelby, Michigan (Shelby HS) beat the buzzer with a midrange, fall-away jumper.
Those three — Hawkins, Beckman, and Ray — led Hope in scoring with 29, 18, and 16 points, respectively. Hawkins' 29 is his season-high.
Hope expanded their lead to their widest margin — 18 — in the second half off a Beckman three-pointer at 14:44. But Mount Union patiently and frenetically fought back, cutting Hope's lead to six points on three occasions, the latest at 31 seconds to go, 90-84. Hope rattled off the game's last four points, though, to get to the final tally.
"We got a little sideways with the press break late," confessed Mitchell. "But overall, I feel really, really good about this team."
After shooting and rebounding performances like the Flying Dutchmen had on Friday, it's easy to see why. Hope shot 52% from the floor, 50% from the three-point arc, and 83.8% from the free throw line.
"I think we did a good job of moving the ball around tonight, got the ball swinging, and the good shots came," observed Ray.
On the boards, Hope was plus-16 over Mount Union (42-26), and it was junior Dennis Towns (pictured above) of Flint, Michigan (Power Catholic HS) who staked his claim to most of them. Towns grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.
"Dennis established himself and was a force," said Mitchell. "And that's just a choice. That's somebody wanting the ball more than anyone else on the court. We need that out of him."
Mount Union was led in scoring by Nathan Bower-Malone with 25 points, JJ Kukura with 19, and D'Vontay Friga with 14.
Hope now takes on John Carroll University (JCU) at 3:00 pm on Satuday in DeVos. JCU was an 111-90 winner over Olivet College.