Upset Special: Maple Leafs Knock Off #25 Grace College
WINONA LAKE, Ind. - It came two days after the official start of the new year, but there could not be a better way to celebrate the turn of the calendar for the Maple Leafs than their 74-66 upset win over Grace College on Saturday.
Calling the road victory "big" simply understates the accomplishment. The Lancers - ranked #25 in the latest NAIA DII national poll - were previously 20-3 in their just over year old Orthopedic Capital Center. Saturday's win marks the first Goshen win over a top 25 team this season - although they have beaten two teams just outside the rankings - and the first time they have knocked off Grace in Winona Lake since 2005.
The win is also big because it is the Leafs first Mid-Central College Conference victory of the young conference season. In the extremely balanced and competitive MCC, every win is vital to the conference standings.
Despite the importance of the win, it did not come in the prettiest of fashions. Especially in the first half, both teams struggled shooting the ball, combining for just 28% shooting. The Maple Leafs also managed to find a way to win despite being out rebounded 52-32, including allowing 20 rebounds on the offensive glass.
"It's not very often you get out-rebounded by 20 and win, but we will certainly take it, especially on the road," said second-year head coach Gary Chupp. "I thought the key tonight was our defensive intensity - we really got after the ball on the perimeter for the entire 40 minutes."
Grace's All-American candidate Eric Gaff hit the first basket of the game before four-consecutive free throws by junior Errick McCollum gave Goshen an early lead, one they would hold onto for the entire half.
McCollum's free throws sparked a 12-2 Goshen run, highlighted by 3-pointers by McCollum and freshman Nate Manning. The Leafs were able to stretch their lead to as many as 12 in the half as McCollum - who leads the nation with 24.9 points a game - scored 15 in the first half and Goshen took a 29-23 lead into the locker rooms.
Behind their home crowd, the Lancers came out strong in the second half and immediately went on an 8-0 run to take a 31-29 lead. Their advantage, however, would last less than a minute as sophomore Jeremy Pope nailed a 3-pointer to put the Leafs back on top and sparked an 11-0 run.
"The key stretch was after they blitzed us on an 8-0 run to start the second half," Chupp explained. "We showed some mental toughness by coming right back with a run of our own to extend the lead back to double digits. That shows a lot of character on the road."
Down double digits, Grace fought to keep the game close and was able to cut the deficit to single digits nine times in the half behind a strong showing from Gaff. The senior center tallied 22 points and 18 rebounds in the losing effort.
"Even though Gaff put up big numbers tonight, I thought he earned everything he got," Chupp said. "With (Kyle) Laker in foul trouble most of the night, Taylor (TenHarmsel) stepped up big in the post defensively. We wanted to make Gaff earn his points, and limit their other scoring threats - I thought we accomplished that tonight."
With two of the nations top 25 scorers both having superb contests, the difference in the game may well have been the Maple Leafs bench which out scored Grace 27-17.
"Our bench came up huge tonight," Chupp added. "In addition to Taylor's defense in the post, Nate Manning played extremely well on both ends of the floor, and (Caleb) Kitchell gave us a big spark."
Kitchell and Manning each scored 11 off the bench as four Maple Leafs finished in double figured. McCollum led the way, hitting 11-of-12 from the free throw line on his way to a game-high 26 points, while Jeremy Pope had a solid night scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and dishing out three assists.
With a big win under their belts, the Maple Leafs hope it will provide them momentum as they swing into the bulk of the conference campaign. Goshen hosts a very strong University of St. Francis squad at the Roman Gingerich Recreation-Fitness Center for a 7:00 p.m. tip on Tuesday.