By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Cornerstone’s big men strolled into the Fieldhouse Saturday and had themselves a field day.
Forwards Ben Lanning, Kyle Steigenga and Corey Cox and center Sam Vander Sluis each scored in double figures to lead the No. 2 Golden Eagles over University of Michigan-Dearborn 94-78.
“Their bigs are unbelievable. Their bigs are studs, absolute studs,” UM-Dearborn head coach Taylor Langley said. “When you (face) three bigs on a program who have big games, it’s tough to win, ‘cause those shots are right around the rim. It’s a lot easier to stop a 20-footer than it is a 2-footer. That’s kind of what we dealt with today.”
Lanning and Steigenga led both teams with 23 points. The duo also had a big day on the boards. Lanning had eight rebounds and Steigenga was one rebound shy of a double-double with nine.
Cox had 14 points and Vander Sluis chipped in 10 off the bench.
Seven of Steigenga’s 23 points came from free throws. UM-Dearborn senior forward Paul Standtke, who was going up against Steigenga and company for most of the afternoon, wasn’t happy with the officiating.
“It’s tough to play against (Steigenga) with the referees the way they’re calling,” Standtke said. “If they’re going to let him bang, let me bang.”
Standtke led the team in rebounds and was second on the team in minutes to freshman guard Xavier Crofford. Crofford, who entered the game averaging 16.9 points per game, scored 13 points.
UM-Dearborn doesn’t have issues with offense. Led by sophomore forward Jason Penn’s 16 points, the Wolverines had five players scoring in double figures. Their issue is limiting points on defense.
“You don’t need to look at the stats to know that when you give up 94 points you need to guard better. If we don’t start committing to guarding we’re going to have a really tough time realizing our potential as a team,” Langley said. “Offensively, we’re fine, we play well enough to win. But if we don’t start realizing the need to guard on a play-by-play, and an action-by-action basis, we’re really going to struggle.”
UM-Dearborn’s games against Davenport and Cornerstone have been measuring stick games. And Langley, a former Davenport assistant coach, agrees; those matchups show how close or how far UM-Dearborn is from reaching the top of the WHAC and becoming nationally ranked.
“Anytime you play Davenport and Cornerstone, that’s where we want to be, that’s who we want to become in the league,” Langley said. “And I think we are starting to acquire the talent, the ability to compete with those teams, but we have to continue to develop the culture. And guys have to continue to buy into that culture. Unless we buy into that culture, we’re going to see these same results.”
UM-Dearborn trailed 49-30 at halftime, but it came out of the break with intensity to keep the game close. The Wolverines scored 48 points in the second half, shooting 56 percent from the field and 70 percent on free throws.
“There were parts in the game where we gave up and we kind of thought we were losing but in the end I was proud. Our guys pretty much played it through. We kept it close…we didn’t let them get 100 (points),” Standtke said.
Cornerstone, the defending national champions, improved to 9-2 (4-1 WHAC). It lost to Aquinas earlier in the week on a buzzer-beating shot.
UM-Dearborn falls to 4-7 (1-5 WHAC) with the loss. After starting the season 3-0, the Wolverines have now lost five straight games. The losing streak started against No. 3 Davenport and featured formerly-ranked Northwestern Ohio and an exhibition loss to Detroit Mercy.
Langley said the Wolverines had the “brutalest part” of the conference schedule early in the season and hopes it can help the team now 11 games into play.
“I hope it was good for something because it wasn’t good for wins; I can tell you that much,” Langley said. “I hope it was good for our growth, I hope our guys are battle-tested and I hope it gives us a better chance to win in league play as we move forward here in December.”
UM-Dearborn has four games remaining on its December schedule. It hosts Wilberforce University (Wilberforce, Ohio) Dec. 10 and travels to Siena Heights two days later. The Wolverines then have a pair of nine-day breaks; they play Indiana University Kokomo Dec. 21 and Adrian Dec. 30 at home.
“Our December schedule, until Christmas break, pretty much, is favorable,” Standtke said. “This first stretch, that’s it. Our hard stretch is over…I think what’s going to happen is that we’re going to start winning games, and guys are going to start looking around. We’re going to build some momentum before we start playing these guys again. And hopefully by the second time we play Cornerstone we’ll be more ready.”