Graessle gives TU the win

Joe Graessle, who took the shot, knew it.

So did Khaleal McCormick, who set the pick for him.

Coach Jerry Buccilla appeared less certain. As Graessle attempted the potential game-winning 3 from the right wing, he leaned hard to his left, as if to guide the ball through the hoop.

It’s impossible to know if Buccilla’s posturing had any effect. What is known is that Graessle and McCormick were correct.

The shot was going in.

Graessle’s 3 with nine seconds left capped a stunning comeback, and gave Tiffin University an 81-80 win over Northwood at the Gilmor Center. The Dragons rallied from an 75-70 deficit in the final 1:42 of regulation, thanks to a pair of Graessle 3s in the final minute.

Graessle, who like virtually all the Dragons was struggling offensively coming in, finished with 36 points, eight less than the entire team scored in a loss to Michigan Tech Saturday.

“Hopefully, we finally got sick of losing,” Graessle said. “After four (losses) in a row, it’s been a rough two weeks for us; it really has.”

And it looked like the trend would continue. But down 80-75 with 55 seconds left, McCormick set a screen for Graessle at the top of the key, and Ashton Khan got him the ball. He nailed a 3 with 55 seconds left.

Up until that point, TU’s defense had struggled against the Timberwolves, struggling to contain Wes Wilcox (16 points, 9 rebounds) and Dylan Langkabel (16 points). The Timberwolves shot better than 60 percent from the floor (14 of 23) in the second half.

“We kinda said in the huddle, ‘Let’s buckle down; let’s get a couple stops. Let’s make this a game. We’ve done this before. We did it in Hawaii,'” Graessle said.

Graessle was referencing TU’s 102-92 overtime win over Fort Lewis Nov. 27. In that game, Graessle’s late jumper sent the contest to OT.

Northwood probably should have foreseen Graessle’s attempt. The senior set the TU all-time program record for 3-pointers Thursday, ending the game with 268 in his career.

After his go-ahead 3, Tiffin got the ball back with 20 seconds left when Northwood’s Devin Ham stepped on the sideline. Buccilla called timeout.

Buccilla decided to call a play drawn up by assistant Dave Clinger.

“It’s a pick the picker play,” Buccilla said. “We know they’re gonna guard Joe tight, so we try to get him off two picks … we got him running the baseline, with two guys setting picks. Then Khaleal throws it in, and he goes and picks (the defender) again.”

The end result is Graessle gets space on the right wing. It worked to perfection, as Khan (who had five assists to go with 11 points) fed Graessle.

Graessle let it fly.

“It was coming to me the whole time,” Graessle said. “Ashton made a great pass, Khaleal made a great pick, and I was able to knock it down.

“I knew it was down, yep,” Graessle said. “No doubt. Had a little bit of space and that’s all I needed.”

McCormick, who had 20 points, five rebounds and three assists, was just as certain.”

“As soon as it left his hand I knew it was going in,” McCormick said. “He’s done it countless times.”

TU didn’t have time to celebrate. The Timberwolves didn’t call a timeout, and instead drove down the floor. But Tiffin’s Bryan Jackson stole the ball from Will Bowles. Jackson was then fouled with less than four seconds left.

“That Bryan Jackson steal at the end,” Buccilla said, “our young guys made mistakes and missed shots, and they’re going to. We’re playing a bunch of young guys … but we believe in them and we trust them, and Bryan stepped up.”

Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and the Timberwolves rebounded with 1.7 seconds left. After a timeout, they tried a baseball pass, but the ball ricocheted off a few players as time expired.

The Dragons improved to 6-6, 2-5 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Northwood fell to 8-7, 4-3.

The Dragons led by as many as 12 early in the second half, but then their offense went cold, going through a five minute stretch where it managed just two points.

That allowed Northwood to take the lead.

“We had every reason, with what’s happened to us lately, to not believe that we could still compete and win,” Buccilla said. “But our guys didn’t. They still believed.”

Tiffin hosts Lake Superior State at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“This is a big win,” McCormick said. “We’ve got to use this momentum and carry it into Saturday.”