Graessle scores 29 as Tiffin men knock off Storm

The situation was familiar, but the result, for what seemed like once in a long time, was different.

And welcome.

After watching an eight-point lead fall to three with a little more than three minutes left, Tiffin’s men found a way to answer.

Joe Graessle hit a long jumper inside the 3-point arc and he and Kahleal McCormick each went 3 for 4 at the foul line over the final 2:34 to salt away a 69-62 win over Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Lake Erie.

“That was big. That’s something we’ve struggled over some of these losses that we’ve had,” TU coach Jerry Buccilla said. “In these five-, seven-point losses, we’ve had leads; other teams make a spurt and we don’t respond and we don’t answer and then all of a sudden we find ourselves trailing and we struggle. Tonight, we answered, we responded pretty well. We never lost our composure.

“I thought we had some untimely turnovers during their little runs that helped fuel their runs,” he said, “but we never really lost our composure, we didn’t have back-to-back mistakes.”

The Dragons (9-15, 5-14 GLIAC) entered Thursday having lost three in a row and five out of their last six, going without a win streak of any kind since claiming the first three games of the year.

Eight of their losses have been by nine or fewer points, with three of their last six defeats coming by six or fewer points.

So when Garrick Sims (16 points) stole the ball just past midcourt and glided in for a dunk to cut Tiffin’s lead to 61-58 with 3:10 to play, it looked as if the Storm (9-17, 6-14) were set to become the latest group to battle past the Dragons.

But TU responded.

McCormick hit two foul shots and, after Lake Erie’s Tom Park scored on a drive and Sims missed two foul shots, Graessle nailed his long jumper off the right wing for a 65-60 advantage with 51 seconds left.

Graessle then snared a defensive rebound off a missed 3 and drew a foul, splitting a pair of foul shots with 33.3 seconds to go.

Parker missed a jumper six seconds later and Graessle again grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to push the lead to 68-60.

Parker (5 assists, 3 steals) then scored on a drive, but McCormick drew a foul moments later, splitting a pair of free throws to ice the game.

The Storm got 22 points from Riley Thomas.

Graessle ended with 29 points and McCormick tossed in 22, but Buccilla said the pair’s rebounding also impressed him as TU held a 41-28 advantage on the boards.

“I was most proud of (Graessle) and Khaleal rebounding. Joe has 10 rebounds and Khaleal has nine and we kind of dominated the boards in the second half and I think that was really the difference in us being able to withstand their run with second shots and getting offensive boards,” Buccilla said.

“In the second half, we get 18 rebounds and they get eight. That was something we talked about – if you’re going to win this game, you’re going to play hard defensively, but you must get the defensive rebound, we can’t give them second-chance opportunities,” he said. “And I felt in the second half, we did a real nice job keeping them off the boards.”

Graessle added five steals and three assists, McCormick dished four assists and blocked two shots, Kelvin Toma handed out seven assists and snared three steals, Mike Boan had four assists and three blocks and Nick Ellison blocked two shots.

Graessle’s point total came after a shaky first half in which he had just six points. Part of that came from an 0-for-3 showing on 3-pointers, so Buccilla told his senior to move his game in.

“Talked to him to try to score in a different way, try to attack the basket, score in a different way, get a little confidence and then go back out,” Buccilla said. “And he did.”

Graessle ended just 2 for 6 behind the arc, but went 11 for 16 overall en route to becoming just the third player to score 1,500 points in GLIAC games.