By DAN JENKINS, Staff Reporter
With the University of Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines struggling over the last month and a half, having lost nine out of its last ten games, a matchup with the Lourdes University Gray Wolves looked anything but promising.
Lourdes brought to the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference’s (WHAC) sixth best record, top scoring defense, and the league’s top rebounder, 6-foot-3, 230 pound sophomore Zach Steinmetz.
The Wolverines had already traveled to Sylvania, OH and lost to Lourdes, 67-46, in late November. Having started for the first time in his career against Indiana Tech on Wednesday, freshman Brandon Cole looked to make the most of his opportunity in his second straight start.
He did so in a big way.
Cole led the Wolverines in a thrilling victory, 57-55, setting career-highs with 16 points and six assists in just under 32 minutes on the court on Saturday. Cole’s six assists were the most by a Wolverine player this season.
“When the coach calls your name you have to step up,” Cole said. “I just tried to play my game and elevate a little bit more to help my teammates.”
After leading by as many as nine in the second half, the Wolverines allowed Lourdes to go on a 12-5 run and cut the lead to just two, 48-46, with 4:08 to play.
With 3:25 to play, Cole drove the baseline and connected on a floating shot while getting fouled and earned a 3-point play at the free throw line, putting the Wolverines ahead, 51-46.
Check out highlights from UM-Dearborn’s win over Lourdes below, courtesy of Wolverines head coach John Mackson.
The next two Wolverine possessions ended with streaking baseline cuts and easy baskets by freshman Nick Wallace, both facilitated by Cole’s passing, putting UM-Dearborn up, 55-48, with 2:08 to play.
“Brandon is really coming into his own,” Wolverines coach John Mackson said. “He was the one guy that they just couldn’t guard. He was able to get into the paint and dish some assists in the second half to get some easy buckets for us. Cole and Nick really had some nice chemistry there in the last few minutes.”
UM-Dearborn held Lourdes without a field goal over the last four minutes, but the Gray Wolves kept the game close at the free throw line, shooting 9-of-10 to whittle the Wolverine lead to 56-55 with 6.6 seconds remaining.
Freshman Marcus Tillmon-Cornet knocked down 1-of-2 free throws following an intentional foul with 4.8 seconds remaining. A heave from the corner would not go for Lourdes at the buzzer, sealing the Wolverines’ third conference win of the season.
Even while being outrebounded 42-37, the Wolverines found a way to get out in transition and stop their offense from getting bogged down.
“We did a good job of making them shoot jump shots or at least taking the time to get the ball inside,” Mackson said. “We wanted to extend the game, we wanted to make it a game that had very few possessions.”
The Wolverines played their most efficient game of the year with season-bests 16 assists and 10 turnovers.
“We just need to focus on every game,” Mackson urged. “We need to focus on getting better and playing with a competitive spirit. That’s the third straight game that we’ve came out, played hard and competed for 40 minutes.”
Cole finished his career day with 16 points, six assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Tillmon-Cornet added nine points and Wallace six points.
For most of the season, the Wolverines have had trouble closing games out, but Mackson has seen a change in his team as of late.
“There was a little bit of resilience,” Mackson said. “We got guys to step up coming off the bench and contributing which allowed our offense to not lock up down the stretch like it has the last couple of games.”
Thoroughly undersized in the paint, the Wolverines allowed Steinmetz to collect 18 rebounds and the Gray Wolves 21 total offensive rebounds. Mackson used a combination of Jeff Fick, Balazs Juhasz, Pat Hebda, and Khalil Beidoun to counter the WHAC’s best rebounder.
“Steinmetz is a physical player. It felt like he didn’t come out of the game,” Mackson laughed. “We wanted to make him tired and we did a good job of that. He missed a lot of shots just short late in the game.”
The Wolverines’ defensive barrage held Steinmetz to just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting for the night.
UMD (5-16, 3-11) currently sits in tenth place in the WHAC standings, two spots out of the eighth and final conference tournament seed. The Wolverines are 3.5 games behind Aquinas for the last spot and have seven conference games remaining on their schedule.
“This win is just huge for our confidence,” Cole urged. “In the conference we have been struggling lately. When we normally go up against conference teams we don’t have the same confidence, so this lets us know that we can go against anybody and beat them.”
The Wolverines will need a strong finish if they hope to reach the WHAC Tournament for the first time in program history. The team has three games remaining against WHAC leaders Cornerstone and Davenport, both ranked in the top 15 in NAIA Division-II.
UM-Dearborn stays at home to host Northwestern Ohio (14-6, 10-4) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The Wolverines will then play on Thursday in a makeup game against Great Lakes Christian College, which was postponed early in the season due to a power outage at the Fieldhouse.