by Abigail Krueger
Facing its first Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association competitor of the season, the Hope College men's basketball team powered past Olivet College, 89-84, on Wednesday night at DeVos Fieldhouse.
The Flying Dutchmen outscored Olivet, 19-12, over the final six minutes to win a neck-and-neck league opener that featured 15 tie scores and 11 lead changes.
"What a basketball game," head coach Greg Mitchell said. "We are thrilled about it, but it is one of 14."
Hope claimed its eighth victory of the season behind a game-high 28 points from junior center Preston Granger, pictured left, of Lansing, Michigan (Lansing Christian HS) and a career-high 21 points from freshman forward Evan Thomas, pictured right, of Okemos, Michigan (Okemos).
The Flying Dutchmen (8-4 overall) held off an Olivet team that defeated 18th-ranked Carthage College (Wisconsin) in its last game.
After the teams were tied at halftime, 43-43, the back-and-forth play continued until Thomas gave the Flying Dutchmen the lead for good at 72-70 with two free throws with 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.
Thomas and Granger each scored 14 points during the second half to lead Hope.
Granger also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. Hope finished plus-7 on the boards against the MIAA's top rebounding team.
"I've seen so much growth in him," Mitchell said of Granger. "We're not going to win if he doesn't play great, and he played great tonight."
The Flying Dutchmen received a number of contributions, including sophomore guard Tyler George of Ada, Michigan (Forest Hills Central) and junior guard Joe Wilkins of South Haven, Michigan (South Haven).
In addition to playing point guard, Wilkins guarded one of the MIAA's leading scorers, Olivet guard Shawn Pardee, and helped put more pressure him after halftime. Pardee, who finished with 26 points, shot 5-of-12 from the field during the second half.
"Joe hasn't stopped working. He's the quietest guy in the world, but the loudest defensively," Mitchell said. "It isn't easy coming into the game with so much responsibility, but he's fearless."
George chipped in 12 points off the bench, including three free throws during the final 47 seconds.
Hope's next game is Saturday, January 11 at 3 p.m. against Albion College at DeVos Fieldhouse.
Albion, which topped the MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll, defeated Calvin University, 93-62, at home on Wednesday in its MIAA opener.