Clutch shot sets tone in Tiffin’s loss to Lakers

It was one play in a game where the difference ended up being 11 points.

But the coaches on both sides, and a few of the players, agreed that Alex Williams’ desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down was of supreme importance in Lake Superior State’s 80-69 win over Tiffin University Saturday.

The Dragons (6-7, 2-6 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) had an upset on their minds, and played the one-loss Lakers just about even for the first 35 minutes.

Lake Superior State was up 64-62 as the clock crawled under five minutes. The Lakers had the ball, and Tiffin had played strong defense on the possession. Williams was isolated near the top of the key, under heavy defensive pressure as the shot clock crawled under 10 … under five…under two.

It was then that Williams lofted a shot.

The shot went in. The Lakers were up 67-62 with 4:56 left. And, seemingly, everything changed.

“Alex Williams hit two big 3s down the stretch, and one of ’em was a backbreaker,” Lake Superior State coach Steve Hettinga said. “There were two seconds left on the shot clock, and he stepped up with confidence and knocked it in.”

Tiffin coach Jerry Buccilla said the shot had a draining effect on his team.

“We just had a great possession of defense,” Buccilla said. “Williams takes an off-balance 26-footer and it goes in. And I could see our guys on that particular shot … you almost saw the air come out of them.”

And Tiffin appeared to carry that disappointment with them for the next few possessions. The Dragons missed six consecutive shots and turned the ball over five times over the next four minutes. What they didn’t do over the stretch was score, and that allowed Lake Superior State to keep adding to its advantage. A pair of Tony Harris free throws capped a 12-0 Laker run that put the contest out of reach.

“I think we missed a couple shots, and down on the other end, they hit a couple really tough heartbreaking shots,” said TU’s Joe Graessle, who led the Dragons with 19 points and seven steals. “Unfortunately, that kind of demoralizes a team sometimes, and I think maybe it did today.

“And it could have went either way,” Graessle said. “I could have hit a shot at the end of the shot clock. We could have hit something that should have went in, and maybe it demoralizes them.”

The Lakers held a major advantage at the foul line, making 27 of 30 attempts. TU was just 11 of 16.

Buccilla said he thought the Dragons played hard and played well.

“I thought we attacked the basket quite a bit,” Buccilla said. “I thought we didn’t get some calls on our attacks to the basket. Some of the bumping and the bodying that was going on, for whatever reason we didn’t get the calls.”

Graessle did his interview from the trainer’s room, though he said he was OK.

“I’m not complaining,” Graessle said. “Sometimes I get calls, sometimes I don’t. It’s the game of basketball. Me and coach Hettinga go back a long way from when he was recruiting me. Honestly, it’s a challenge when we go up against each other.”

Hettinga said Graessle is tough to defend, but Williams did a good job against him.

“That’s a great night’s work when you can hold Graessle under 20,” Hettinga said.

Derek Billing led the Lakers with 24 points and eight rebounds, while Harris had 18 points and six boards as Lake Superior State improved to 15-1, 7-1 in the GLIAC. Cameron Metz had 11 points.

Ashton Khan had 12 points and five assists for Tiffin, with Khaleal McCormick had 11 points and a team-high 12 rebounds.

Mike Boan, who came into the game 0 for 1 this season in 3-point attempts, made three treys Saturday and finished with 13 points off the bench.

“I’ve had a lot more confidence with my shot,” Boan said. “They were in rhythm, so I thought I’d just take ’em.”

Buccilla said we could see more of that from Boan.

“You see how hard he works on the court during the game? He works hard on his game off the court,” Buccilla said. “He shoots more shots in the gym on his own during off time than anyone in our program. And Mike can shoot outside, it’s just we have used him to attack the rim and you that athleticism to help us be effective on the inside game.

“We have confidence in him. You may see more of that now.”