Men's Basketball Edged by Cornerstone in Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Classic

by Greg Chandler

The Hope College men's basketball team built double-digit leads in both halves of Friday night's game, but could not hold off Cornerstone University down the stretch as the Golden Eagles handed the Flying Dutchmen their first loss of the season, 78-74, at Cornerstone's Mol Arena in the 24th annual Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Tournament.

The Flying Dutchmen, now 3-1 on the season, will face Aquinas College, an 84-60 winner over Calvin University Friday night, on Saturday night in the Hall of Fame tournament. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.

Hope placed four players in double figures, with senior guard Riley Lewis of Williamston, Michigan (Williamston HS) leading the way with 20 points, including four 3-point baskets. Junior guard Calvin Hackert of Ludington, Michigan (Ludington) added 11 points.

Junior forward Preston Granger of Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Christian HS) fell one rebound shy of a double-double with 10 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Freshman guard Evan Thomas of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos HS) had another strong performance off the bench with 10 points and four assists.

Junior center Ryan Gamm of Rockford, Michigan (Rockford HS) contributed seven rebounds and four assists to go along with six points.

"I thought we did a good job of controlling things for a lot of the game," Hope coach Greg Mitchell said. "If you told me we'd outrebound them (42-39) and win the turnover battle, I'd feel pretty good about the result. We left some points out there on the free-throw line that hurt us. We had a few possessions in the last five minutes that I thought were a difference maker. We let a couple of guys get loose at the (3-point) arc, and we just didn't finish. We need to finish."

Hope threatened to take control of the game midway through the second half, ripping off 10 unanswered points over a span of three minutes. Hackert highlighted the run with a pair of baskets, one of them a 3-pointer, to give the Flying Dutchmen a 61-50 lead with 9:52 remaining in the contest.

But the host Golden Eagles, ranked No. 14 in NAIA Division II, had an answer, storming back to tie the game at 68-68 with a little more than three minutes left. Cornerstone took the lead for good at 73-71 with 1:33 remaining on Tyler Baker's 3-pointer from the top of the key. Baker scored seven of his game-high 25 points in the final 93 seconds.

Hope had a chance to tie the game with a 3-point shot in the final seconds, but missed, and the Golden Eagles hung on to improve to 8-3 on the season. It was Cornerstone's fifth straight win over Hope in the GRSHOF tournament.

Hope got off to a strong start in the contest, jumping out to an early 10-4 lead. After Cornerstone rallied to tie the game at 15-all, the Flying Dutchmen then went on a 13-2 burst, sparked by the play of sophomore forward Jeff Bikus of Hawthorn Woods, Illinois (Mundelein HS). Bikus, who entered the game due to early foul trouble among Hope's front line, scored five points, grabbed a couple of rebounds and blocked a shot during the run.

Lewis capped the run with a 3-point basket to give the Flying Dutchmen a 28-17 lead with 4:57 remaining in the first half.

Cornerstone fought back to take a 35-34 lead in the final minute of the half, but Hackert sank two foul shots after being fouled on an offensive rebound with 1.2 seconds left, and the Flying Dutchmen led 36-35 at halftime.

Free throw shooting turned out to be the difference in the game, as the two teams made the same number of baskets (22) and 3-point shots (8). The Flying Dutchmen made 22 of 33 from the line for 67 percent, but Cornerstone sank 26 of 32 for 81 percent.

Hope outrebounded the taller Golden Eagles 42-39, including 15 offensive boards to eight for Cornerstone. The Flying Dutchmen committed a season-low seven turnovers despite the intense physical defense of the Golden Eagles.