By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
There were no confetti cannons, no players jumping with joy, no court storming.
The only things mirroring a celebration were smiles all around, high fives and handshakes, and a late-game moment shared between Paul Standtke and Ali Farhat after an intentional foul.
If you didn’t previously know the significance of the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s basketball team’s 59-57 win over Madonna, well, good luck finding out. This post-game scene was one of an ordinary Fieldhouse victory.
Except the win was anything but ordinary.
The win, No. 14 on the season, broke the program record for wins in a single season. The Wolverines won 13 games in 1982-1983 and 1999-2000.
But there was no celebration, at least publicly, for the milestone. And that’s OK. Because the best team in UM-Dearborn men’s basketball history wants more.
“We don’t want to be the best team in school history with a losing record. We want to get a winning record, make the playoffs and make some noise,” senior forward Paul Standtke said. “We’re not like the Lions, we don’t want to hop in the playoffs and just hop right out. We want to actually take advantage of it.”
The Wolverines, after tacking on a win Saturday vs. Concordia, are 15-13, and sit at sixth place in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference. Two games remain in the regular season before the conference tournament begins.
“We’ve just started. We’re trying to finish out the season; we’re trying to kill this record,” sophomore guard Ali Farhat said. “Postseason is the most important part. [When] we get in there, all the rankings and all those wins and losses are all wiped out. It’s either you win or you lose from there, so the tournament is everything right now.”
UM-Dearborn has turned a corner in the second half of the season. The Wolverines have won eight games since Christmas and have kept themselves in the thick of the WHAC tournament chase. They have two three-game winning streaks in the stretch and have a chance to end the season on a five-game winning streak.
Breaking the single-season record for wins and making the playoffs for the first time since 2011 has fueled UM-Dearborn’s hunger for more.
“I think since Christmas our guys’ confidence (is) very high and we’re excited about these victories, but they’re small victories,” head coach Taylor Langley said. “They’re victories you have to achieve to get to the next level, which is where everybody wants to go.
“I think we’re all on the same bus and we’re headed that way. We want to be a top-tier team in this league. We want to compete for championships. In order to do that, you have to break these types of records. You celebrate them now but a year from now they can be distant past. We’re looking for new achievements and we’re striving for new goals.”
Farhat, an Eastern Michigan transplant, has been a difference maker for UM-Dearborn. He made his team debut Jan. 6 and has scored in double figures in seven of 12 games played.
Sophomore guard Deonte Bell is finally healthy and has been able to run the offense.
UM-Dearborn has improved in the second half, increasing its free throw percentage by three percent and cutting down on turnovers.
But most of all, as sophomore forward Jason Penn puts it, “we’re playing more as a team as the season goes on.”
On the night UM-Dearborn broke its wins record, Marcus Williams, the team’s leading scorer, left a tied game with just over four minutes remaining. But the Wolverines didn’t crumble with his absence.
“The amount of adversity our guys had to go through to find a way to win this game, nobody blinked an eye,” Langley said. “Marcus went down, nobody panicked, we just played.”
“Tonight really showed who we were as a team,” Standtke added. “Marcus went out, that’s our best player, arguably our best offensive player. And guys just stepped up.”
Last winter, UM-Dearborn was locked in a similar crunchtime situation. The Wolverines fell to Siena Heights 66-65.
This time, the close game went the Wolverines’ way.
“The biggest difference between last year and this year is we actually believe we can win,” Standtke said. “We’re not trying to play to like escape out of the game; we’re trying to win now.”
“I think it speaks to the guys. It was so quiet all day today with the guys. Very few words were spoken. And I said, ‘Either you guys are really flat or really focused.’ And they were really focused,” Langley added. “When we’re going to the timeouts and we’re talking about the last plays we were going to run and we’re talking about the last defenses we’re going to run, everybody bought in and was so in-tune to what we were doing and what the plan was. I was just so happy to see that.
“You don’t just get to win close games. You have to earn them. You have to earn them through your work in the summer. You have to earn them through sacrifices you make as a player to get better.”
From a crushing one-point loss to a record-setting two-point win, UM-Dearborn has come a long way in just one year. This year’s team has cemented itself as the best in program history.
But they’re not done yet; it’s only beginning. The Wolverines are hungry for more
“I think (this win) puts some confidence on our shoulders. I think it shows us that we’re just not UM-Dearborn anymore, we’re UM-Dearborn with emphasis,” Farhat said. “Now people will take us seriously and respect us as the way they should. We have some great athletes on our team. It’s a lot for us, it’s a lot. But we’re not done. We still got a lot more to go.”