The Wayne State University men's basketball team swept its series against Saginaw Valley State University at the Matthaei Center. WSU won the first game 80-65 on Feb. 19 and the second game 86-67 on Feb. 20.
In recent years, SVSU has handed WSU a number of losses. Since the 2013-2014 season, WSU’s record against SVSU was 2-9. Heading into Friday’s game, SVSU rode in on a five-game winning streak against WSU.
On Friday, after a tight opening eight minutes to the game, WSU began consistently scoring around the 12:22 mark in the first half. Three-pointers began falling for WSU as senior guard Brailen Neely and sophomore forward Kylin Grant hit one each, leading WSU to a 10-0 run that put them up 25-13.
SVSU brought the lead back down to 30-29, with 4:34 left in the first half, after WSU suffered from some defensive lapses inside the paint. Sophomore forward Nate Talbot, having returned from his back injury, fouled on back-to-back possessions, leading to free throws and an and-one for SVSU.
Heading into halftime, WSU still held onto the lead, with SVSU staring down a 38-32 deficit.
The second half was when the floodgates opened for WSU. Neely got the half started right for WSU, scoring only 12 seconds into the quarter off some fancy footwork in the paint. Sophomore forward Avery Lewis then helped extend WSU’s lead to 42-32 with 18:50 left to play.
Head Coach David Greer said this season has appeared to present opportunities for a different player in each game, but he would like to see them all click at once shortly.
“Seems like every game, we have two new guys stepping up and making those baskets that we need from them. But I don’t think we’ve had a game where everyone just plays good, so hopefully, we get to see that soon,” Greer said.
WSU maintained an 11 point lead with 5:10 left in the game. Through some effective ball movement and imposing defense, WSU continued to increase its lead throughout the final minutes of the game.
With 2:18 remaining in the game, Lewis hit a free throw, bringing WSU’s lead to 76-57.
From there on out, WSU never looked back. SVSU never regained the lead and even after attempting another small comeback, WSU continued to extend its lead even further. Shortly after, the bench subbed into the game, and WSU ran a victory lap.
After a pair of free throws, WSU closed the game, winning 80-65. Neely led WSU with 23 points, four steals and nine assists, the most in those categories for WSU on Friday. Lewis also racked up his third double-double of the season, as he scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
During both games over the weekend, SVSU broke out a 1-3-1 zone, a defense seldom seen in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Greer said he felt WSU did a good job of playing against a rare defense.
“I wouldn’t say that it caught us by surprise. We built up a pretty nice lead, but it got them a few turnovers. It’s nothing to worry about, though, we proved that we can handle it,” Greer said.
On Saturday, SVSU drastically changed its lineup, looking to turn things around. As the game tipped off, SVSU entered the game with three seven-footers in the starting five. Greer said he immediately noticed it and was proud of WSU for fighting through the size disadvantage.
“I thought Avery was outstanding all week. Since the Ashland game, he’s been dominant on the boards. I think today he used his quickness as an advantage and was able to offset their height a little bit. They were big but I think we handled them,” Greer said.
Junior guard Antonio Marshall tried working his way into the paint with 17:22 left in the half, but he received his second foul, forcing him out of the game very early. However, Greer said the foul shouldn't have gone to Marshall.
“It was frustrating. Antonio has been struggling with early foul troubles. For him to get a tick-tack foul that wasn’t his was frustrating for us but especially for Antonio. For him, that’s been his problem, he can’t even get off the ground,” Greer said.
In spite of the obvious size difference and the early fouls on Marshall, WSU seemed unaffected. WSU held a 17-10 lead with 13:29 left to play in the half after Grant hit a three-pointer. After the media timeout, SVSU brought some of its starters back on the floor where they found some success.
Following four straight three-pointers and some sloppy possessions from WSU, SVSU captured a 22-20 lead. Following another media timeout with 8:00 left in the half, WSU subbed in some players off the bench and it proved to be a resounding success. WSU then gained a 31-22 lead off a fastbreak layup from Lewis with 4:43 left in the half.
At halftime, WSU held a commanding 42-30 lead. In the second half, WSU never relented, not letting the lead get below 12 points at any point in the half. This time around, WSU began to click on all cylinders.
At the end of the game, Neely scored 21 points and collected seven rebounds, Lewis scored 23 points and had seven rebounds, and junior guard Darian Owens-White scored 26 points and grabbed three rebounds as well as four assists. Owens-White was awarded the GLIAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week award.
This was the first game WSU had three 20-point scorers since Jan. 10, 2005. With these scorers, WSU collected another huge 86-67 victory.
With the victory on Saturday, WSU clinched a GLIAC conference victory. This season marks the first time WSU has outright won the GLIAC since the 1998-1999 season.
WSU’s regular season is far from over. WSU returns home to the Matthaei Center for its final regular-season series against rival Ferris State University on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27. These will also be the final regular-season basketball games that will ever be played at the Matthaei Center, as WSU will be moving to a new arena in fall 2021.
Irving Mejia-Hilario is sports editor for The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of forward Avery Lewis provided by WSU Athletics.