by Alan Babbitt
The 3-pointer swished through the net, giving the Hope College men's basketball team the lead for good in a back-and-forth clash with seven-win Westminster College (Pennsylvania).
The Flying Dutchmen made two stops on defense over the final 72 seconds to preserve an 80-77 win on Friday during the first round of the Russ DeVette Holiday Classic at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Hope (7-3 overall) now will play Illinois Tech for the tournament championship. Illinois Tech (2-8) defeated Olivet College, 73-59, in Friday's opener.
It was a satisfying victory, head coach Greg Mitchell said.
"A lot of credit to our guys," Mitchell said after praising 7-4 Westminster, which tied for second place in the Presidents' Athletic Conference preseason poll. "We gutted it out. Tyler's big 3. Clayton (Dykhouse)'s 3, Sam (Vree's) putback and our quarterback Mason (Opple's) reserve layup, all those little things were very significant. A good win for us, finding a way to steal a 'W'. I'm really proud of the effort."
Hope overcame a 17-10 Westminster run that opened the first 5 minutes, 19 seconds of the second half and put the Titans ahead, 57-50.
The game featured 15 lead changes and 10 tie scores.
Junior forward Preston Granger of Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Christian HS) topped the Flying Dutchmen with 27 points.
Hope's leading scorer for the season shot 73.3 percent from the field (11-of-15) to follow up a career-high 32-point effort on December 18 during a 94-88 overtime victory against Carleton College (Minnesota) in Orlando, Florida.
Freshman forward Evan Thomas of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos) chipped in 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
George, a sophomore forward from Ada, Michigan (Forest Hills Central) finished with 12 points off the bench. Dykhouse added nine points, including a score-tying 3-pointer with five minutes remaining.
Westminster received a team-high 22 points from guard Dylan O'Hara. The Titans play Olivet at 1 p.m. on Saturday.