By JACK VANASSCHE, Sports Editor
Last week, the University of Michigan-Dearborn men’s basketball team showed two polar opposite sides of itself in a split of the team’s conference games.
Wednesday, things were looking up for the Wolverines as they blew out last-place Lawrence Tech for an 86-72 victory.
The final score made the game look semi-competitive. It wasn’t.
The Wolverines were riding high throughout, carried by a career night for senior forward Marcus Williams and inspired by a historic achievement of junior forward Jason Penn.
Just minutes over the halfway point of the second half, the Wolverines had built their lead up to 34 points.
A late surge from the Blue Devils (3-20, 2-15 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference) pulled them 20 points closer, but the Wolverines managed to run the clock out to win by 14.
“I thought we played 30 minutes of real good basketball, and then- there were a lot of things going on tonight. I feel like some of those things became distractions and it took away from how good of basketball we were playing.”
Williams scored a career-high 37 points in the game and started early.
“I was just taking the best shot available,” Williams said. “It was like everything was in rhythm for me. I just knocked all the shots down that I need to.”
After Donovan Farrell scored the first two buckets of the game for the Wolverines, Williams took charge and scored 15 of UM-Dearborn’s next 17 points in a four-minute span.
As a result, the Wolverines rode an 18-5 run to start the game, and stayed hot until halftime.
In the second half, two members of the Wolverines were chasing history with Williams working toward his career-high point total, while Penn was searching for career point 1,000.
The two helped their own causes with back-to-back breakaway slam dunks in the second half, putting the Wolverines up by 21 and bringing Penn within one point of his milestone.
“This season, I haven’t been feeling no type of pressure,” Penn said in response to the looming milestone. “I’ve just been out there playing ball.”
Penn was fouled two possessions later, and hit the second of his two free throws to reach 1,000.
“I really didn’t get excited until after the game when I got the plaque and my teammates jumped on me,” Penn said. “It’s just so much fun being around guys like that that show you so much love.”
Focus then shifted to Williams, still in the game in the second half of a blowout in search of a career high.
Langley admitted that he probably left his star forward in too long, despite Williams’ pleas.
“I should have probably saved him more in this game in that second half with a big lead, but we gotta learn from our mistakes.”
Williams had no issue staying in the game with a chance at 40 points.
“I didn’t even come out really at all during the second half. Usually, I get a little break, but I was insistent on staying in and Lang- he rolled with me.”
Williams finished with a career-high 37 points on 15-of-27 shooting and five three-pointers in 37 minutes. Penn finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Lawrence Tech clawed back mercilessly in the final eight minutes of the game and eventually outscored the Wolverines 40-37 in the second half.
“If you play bad basketball, even for a second, they’ll make you pay for it, and they did,” Langley said.
Ultimately, the Blue Devils were in a hole too deep to climb out of.
Starting guard Payton DeWildt scored a team-high 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting on the day. Travis Baker finished with 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds.
“It’s always fun,” said Wolverine point guard Xavier Crofford. “We’re trying to build momentum and with J (Jason Penn) getting his 1,000 and Marc going for 37, that type of stuff at this time of the season makes it that much better.”
“We had a few lapses earlier in the season,” said Williams after the win. “With these two home games– we’re pretty good at home.
“Basically, this is the week for us to just sit back and wait for someone else to make a mistake in the rankings.”
The Wolverines may have done too much ‘sitting back’ and ended up making a mistake of their own on Saturday, when they were upset at home by the Marygrove Mustangs, 84-76.
The Mustangs (7-19, 6-12 WHAC) came alive in the second half to pull off the upset, severely damaging the Wolverines’ (17-9, 11-7 WHAC) chances to reach the top 25, the top of the conference and possibly a shot at the national tournament.
“This is going to be looked at very harshly by the raters,” said Langley after the loss. “We did not do ourselves any favors today.”
The Wolverines took a 42-39 lead into halftime hoping to pull away from the ninth-place Mustangs in the second half.
Instead, Marygrove tied the game at 50-50 five minutes into the second half and traded leads with the Wolverines until taking a 60-59 lead on a tip-in with nine minutes left.
The Mustangs stretched their lead to 10 points, but a frantic rally from the Wolverines pulled them within three points with 50 seconds left.
Williams lobbed up a potential game-tying three-pointer, but it banked off the front of the rim to extinguish hope of a Wolverine comeback. Williams finished 0-of-8 from three-point range on the night.
Marygrove had five players score in double-digits, led by Eli Ingram with 16 points.
“They had more energy than us,” Langley said of Marygrove. “They had more energy and enthusiasm– they just played better basketball.
“Guys have to take ownership of this team and play every game like their last down the stretch.”
With another loss to a low-ranking team, the last four games of the season will hold tremendous weight on the fate of UM-Dearborn’s postseason.
This week, the Wolverines will have to travel to take on the nation’s top team, No. 1 Cornerstone University, on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, they will play their last road game of the season at Madonna University at 3 p.m.