By Mark DeHaan
The Calvin men's basketball team hosted the Scots of Alma College for an MIAA Tournament semi-final on Thursday evening and recorded a 73-65 victory.
Both teams were looking to advance to the MIAA Tournament final on Saturday and a chance at the conference's NCAA Tournament automatic qualifying bid.
During the regular season, the teams split their pair of meetings. Calvin was the victor at Van Noord Arena 93-87 on January 7, while Alma returned the favor with an 87-85 overtime win at Alma on January 31.
The game was a near-replay of the first contest at Van Noord Arena, with Alma giving a late run at a second half Calvin lead. Although the Scots got to within three points with just over two minutes to play, the Knights held off the visitors and earned a 73-65 victory to advance to Saturday's league championship game.
With the ball game tied at 6-6 early, a 12-3 run, capped by a three-pointer from senior Jordan Brink, put the Knights ahead 18-9.
With 5:53 to go in the first half, a jumper from Ethan Woelke cut Calvin's lead to four at 22-18. But, the Knights finished the half on a 9-3 run to take a double-digit lead into the break at 31-21.
At halftime, Brink and sophomore Michael Welch each had seven points for Calvin. The Knights were 33.3% from the field, shooting 8-for-10 from the free throw line.
Out of the break, Calvin extended its lead to 38-24 with 18:00 remaining in regulation.
But, just like the first meeting this season between the Knights and Scots, Alma began to work its way back into the ball game.
The Scots, less than four minutes later, cut Calvin's lead to five at 42-37.
The Knights reestablished a double-digit advantage at 51-41 midway through the second half, but Alma refused to go away quietly.
With 2:35 to go, the Scots cut their deficit to 59-56.
A big dunk from senior Tyler Dykstra then swung momentum into Calvin's favor, and, utilizing strong free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Knights finished off a 73-65 win.
Calvin shot just 31.7% from the field, including 21.1% from three-point range. But, the Knights were 31-of-41 from the free throw line, also out-rebounding Alma 55-33. Calvin grabbed 20 offensive boards.
Individually, junior Jordan Daley had a monster game with 17 points and 15 rebounds, hitting 10-of-14 shots from the free throw line. The double-double was Daley's fifth of the year, and his rebounding total was a career high. Brink added a near double-double with 19 points and nine rebounds, making 10-of-12 attempts from the free throw line.
For Alma, Jason Beckman scored 16 points while Scott Nikodemski contributed 15.
"Coming out of the locker room for the second half, we had a real slow start, gave up some layups, and from there, it was a grind," said head coach Kevin Vande Streek. "I'm proud of our guys for being able to move past the last play and play the next play, and get the job done."
Calvin improves to 20-6 with the win, marking its 18th 20-win season in program history. Alma ends its season at 11-15.
Calvin now looks forward to Saturday, when the Knights will match up with the Flying Dutchmen of Hope College for the MIAA Tournament Final. Hope defeated Trine University 55-44 at Trine in the second league semi-final of the night.
"I think Hope has the pedigree of having been in those semi-final games, and winning those games – it will be a really good game on Saturday," said Vande Streek. "The third game is always hard. You know what they run, what their personnel is like. Our guys know that it wasn't easy the first two meetings, and they know it will be a real battle."
The conference final will tip-off at 7:30 p.m., and will be part of a Calvin-Hope women's-men's basketball doubleheader. The Calvin and Hope women, also playing in the MIAA Tournament Final, will tip off at 3:00 p.m.