By Mark DeHaan
It was a winner-take-all match-up of The Rivalry on Saturday evening, with Calvin and Hope meeting at Van Noord Arena to fight for an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Knights were victorious in both regular season meetings: 88-64 at Hope on January 10 and 83-77 at Calvin on February 4. However, a third win was necessary to ensure the continuation of the Knights season.
Calvin started the game off slow, and for much of the contest, was down by double-digits. But, a late run the Knights, capped by a Jordan Brink jumper with five seconds to go in the game, saw Calvin take its only lead of the game.
The Knights, forcing a turnover on the last play, held on to the lone lead to claim an incredible 70-69 come-from-behind victory. It was a instant-classic which saw Calvin claim its third win of the season over its rivals, the league tournament crown, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Calvin put itself in an uphill battle right from the tip. The Knights fell into an early double-digit hole, not scoring until senior Jordan Brink hit a pair of free throws with 15:23 remaining in the first.
By that point, Hope was ahead 13-2.
Calvin cut the deficit to 22-18 on a jumper by Brink with 8:41 to go, but the Flying Dutchmen worked their advantage back to double-digits minutes later on a triple by guard Sam Otto.
Hope then built its lead up to 39-24, where the score settled at halftime.
Calvin shot just 29.2% in the first half, while the Flying Dutchmen shot 57.1%. Brink had 11 points at the half, but was overshadowed by a 17-point half by Hope's Otto. Brock Benson contributed 10 for Hope at half.
Out of the break, the Flying Dutchmen matched their largest lead of the game at 47-32 with with 17:14 to go in regulation.
While Calvin was able to get within ten on three occasions, Hope's lead was still double-digits with 5:11 remaining at 67-56.
A 9-0 run by the Knights, including back-to-back threes from senior Jordan Brink, brought the game within two at 67-65.
After a layup by Hope's Brock Benson put Hope up four with 1:51 to go, an offensive rebound from senior TJ Huizenga and putback, while drawing a foul, brought new life to the Knights. After sinking the free-throw, Calvin found itself down a single point.
Hope missed a three with 0:19 remaining, but grabbed the offensive board and was then fouled to send the Flying Dutchmen to the line for the one-and-one.
For the game, Hope was 20-of-21 at the free-throw line up to that point. But, with the pressure on, Hope missed the free throw to put the ball into Calvin's hands with 0:18 to go.
With time winding down, the ball was given to Jordan Brink. Gaining a half-step on his defender, Brink put up a shot from the right elbow that found the bottom of the net with five seconds remaining, giving the Knights their first lead of the game at 70-69.
The five-second lead is all Calvin would need, and, forcing a turnover on Hope's last possession, the Knights overcame a double-digit deficit to claim the one-point victory, the MIAA Tournament title, and the conference's automatic qualifying bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Calvin shot 48.0% for the game, stepping up in the second half to shoot 65.4%. Hope shot 50%, also hitting 20-of-22 free throws for 90.9%. The Knights out-rebounded the Flying Dutchmen 31-22, grabbing 13 offensive boards. Calvin played strong on the defensive end as well, tallying five blocks and four steals.
Individually, it was Brink scoring 25 points to lead all scorers. Senior Daniel Stout added 11 while senior Tyler Dykstra contributed nine.
For Hope, Otto finished with 24, guard Ben Gardner scored 16, and Benson added 14.
"Credit to Calvin, they made big shots," said Hope head coach Greg Mitchell. "I thought we played with great toughness, with great passion, and we played the right way. I felt like we deserved a better fate."
"I thought they did the dictating (in the first half). But, I give our guys credit, because in the second half I felt like we did that," said Calvin head coach Kevin Vande Streek. "One of the things I've said about this team is we have a lot of pieces, and we figure out what pieces work best in a given game. When you get into a close game down the end, it is incredibly beneficial to have the best player, and we have. And he delivered again today."
"I think our energy level went way up (in the second half), as well as our composure," said Tyler Dykstra about Calvin's second half surge. "We knew we could get there, we just had to keep ourselves together and play our game."
"There were a few times down the stretch of the game where I looked around coming out of the timeout and it was all four seniors (on the floor)," said Brink. "Dan Stout played a heck of a game today, and TJ Huizenga has stepped up tremendously down the stretch of the season – it's been special."
The Knights improve to 21-6 with the win, while Hope moves to 18-9.
Calvin now awaits the NCAA Division III tournament selection show on Monday to see where the team will be traveling for the tournament. The show starts at 12:30 p.m. on NCAA.com