Ashland withstands TU run

Ashland coach John Ellenwood said he knew Tiffin would make a comeback.

The key, he said, was being able to withstand it.

The Eagles did just that. They watched a 16-point second-half lead dwindle to five after a Joe Graessle-fueled Dragons run, answered it and defeated TU 80-72 at the Gillmor Center.

“We said at halftime, ‘Tiffin always makes a run on us,'” Ellenwood said. “And they did. Joe Graessle got going and we got in foul trouble.

“[But] we weathered the storm and we got it done,” Ellenwood said.

Graessle did everything he could.

The Dragons star guard was at his best in the final minutes of Saturday’s game. He finished with 33 points, six rebounds and seven steals.

He’s now just 14 points from the single season Tiffin record, held by Jeff Ward. He will have a chance to break the record next week at Ohio Dominican.

With his steal total Saturday, he now holds the program’s single-season record for thefts with 101.

“It is a huge accomplishment for me,” said Graessle, a junior. “I’m proud of myself to be able to do it. I talked to my mom and dad before the season, and they basically said, ‘Play every game like it’s your senior season. And then, you’re gonna have your senior season to do everything else.’ That’s the approach I’ve taken.”

Graessle’s jumper with 3:01 left in regulation made it 69-64 Ashland. The Eagles led 74-68 with 1:03 remaining. Graessle had the ball.

“Joe’s being guarded by a 5-5 guy, and he wrapped him,” Tiffin coach John Hill said. “I see the palm of his hand on Joe’s stomach… Joe, when he posts up, he’s got a great offensive move. He reverse pivots, fades away and gets the shot.”

This time, before he could take the shot, he was called for an offensive foul.

“They called an offensive foul ’cause (David Harris) flopped,” Hill said. “We had good momentum, were getting a shot. Joe was on fire at that time.”

After the foul, Evan Yates was left open as the Dragons pressed. A baseball pass to Yates resulted in a 76-68 advantage with 52 seconds on the clock.

That, essentially, was it.

Will Evans, who hit a pair of big 3s, finished with a team-leading 18 points for Ashland. Cole Krizancik, who had three treys, finished with 13 points while Brook Turson had 14.

Ashland improved to 12-12, 10-11 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Tiffin (10-17, 7-14) got 14 points from Khaleal McCormick, and nice games from a pair of seniors. Isaiah Twine had eight points and six rebounds, while Cody Dennison had nine points, three assists, two steals.

Ashland used a 12-0 run to separate itself from the Dragons in the first half. A dunk by the Dragons’ Jonathan Sutherlin cut Ashland’s lead to 16-15, but the Eagles responded by making three straight shots from the floor. A 3-pointer from the right corner by Will Evans made it 25-15.

That, followed by a DaWuan Thomas’ three-point play, put the Eagles up 28-15. They led 34-25 at the half.

In the second half, TU was unable to make a big dent in the Eagles lead until the final seven minutes.

Graessle was asked how Ashland was able to maintain its advantage.

“I honestly don’t know. I honestly don’t,” he said. “We really wanted to focus on sending the seniors out on a good note, on a win. That first half really just killed us.”

Hill took some positives out of the game.

“I was very proud of my team, the way they fought back,” he said.