The Ashland University men's basketball team overcame a six-point deficit with 6:56 left and made crucial plays down the stretch to knock off visiting Northern Michigan, 67-60, on Saturday (Jan. 5) afternoon at Kates Gymnasium.
The Eagles (13-0, 6-0 GLIAC), ranked No. 10 in Division II, have now won 13 straight games to start the season. It is the second-best start in program history behind the 1990-91 Eagles, which won their first 15 games.
Junior center Drew Noble was a load inside against the Wildcats (8-5, 3-3 GLIAC), scoring 19 of his 26 points in the second half while also contributing nine rebounds and a game-high five assists.
Things got off to a slow start as the Eagles started by making just three of their first 15 shots against a long, tough NMU zone defense. Ashland trailed by a 17-7 margin with eight minutes left in the first half.
"They did a really good job of taking away Drew at the short corner and taking away the high post, so they were getting us to pass the ball around the perimeter," said senior guard Ben Haraway. "It's hard to score when you don't get any penetration."
Haraway pulled the Eagles out of their rut by sinking back-to-back 3-pointers and forcing the Wildcats to switch into a man-to-man defense. Two buckets by Noble then tied the game and the Eagles had their first lead on another Haraway triple with five minutes left in the half.
"You have to run simple offenses so you're not caught in what they're doing," said head coach John Ellenwood. "You just have to play. Once they went man-to-man, we were able to get loose on a couple drives on mismatches. We started going down low, Ben got hot from three and it really helped us. We needed to see that one basket go in so we weren't running back on defense. When you get that breath, sometimes that's all it takes."
Junior guard Rodrick Caldwell scored the last four points of the half for Ashland as the hosts took a 29-23 lead into halftime.
The Eagles held the Wildcats to just 34.8 percent (8-for-23) shooting in the first 20 minutes. Haraway drew the assignment of GLIAC Preseason Player of the Year Naba Echols and held him to just four points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first half. Caldwell and senior forward Phil Frentsos also spent time on Echols in the second half and he finished with just 11 points on 3-for-16 shooting overall.
"I was just trying to play defense as hard as I could," said Haraway. "I know he can make a lot of tough shots, but we'll live with that. I was trying to have him make shots over me. I thought I did a good job of that and Rod did a great job in the second half."
The game saw six lead changes and two tie scores in the second half as the teams traded blows. Northern Michigan led by as many as six points on multiple occasions as the Eagles struggled again against the zone.
This time it was Noble who did the damage. He took advantage of single coverage underneath, going 8-for-12 from the field in the second half. When the Wildcats brought double teams, Noble was able to kick out for 3-pointers, including one to Haraway, which tied the game at 44 with 10 minutes left.
The Wildcats then went on a 6-0 run to take a 50-44 lead, but Noble scored the next six points for Ashland and Haraway sank a 3-pointer off an Aaron Thompson feed to give AU a 54-52 lead.
Isaiah Johnson, who finished with 30 points on 9-for-16 shooting, tied the game with a couple free throws for NMU before Noble again scored and was fouled with 3:07 left to give the Eagles a 56-54 advantage.
Myles Howard tied the game with two free throws before Haraway struck for another 3-pointer off a Caldwell pass to give the Eagles a 59-56 lead. The teams then traded scores before Caldwell sank a 3-pointer to put Ashland up, 64-60, with 1:20 to play.
Haraway made three of four free throws in the final minute as the Wildcats missed their last three 3-point attempts as the Eagles put the game away.
Haraway finished with 23 points and hit a career-high six 3-pointers on just eight attempts. Thompson scored five points and collected a career-high 16 rebounds.
"When we were facing teams that were undefeated, whether it was 5-0, 6-0, 10-0, we really looked to attack those teams, because you want to be the one to knock them off," Noble said. "We're definitely getting everyone's best shot."
The Eagles will now take their winning streak on the road, heading to GLIAC newcomer Parkside on Thursday (Jan. 10) at 8:30 p.m. ET.