The Bulldogs wanted to be the best this year. They knew they would have to beat the best down the stretch to get the GLIAC North crown. And with just one game left in the regular season, the Bulldogs are GLIAC North champs.
Saturday had all the makings of the kind of excitement you see during March madness: fans rushing the court, nets being cut down, team photos with the Bulldogs letting everyone know they are number one. And with all of it, it can almost be forgotten that senior center Justin Keenan is one point away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in GLIAC history.
All of this was part of an 84-66 victory over the third-ranked Findlay Oilers that clinched the first division championship for Ferris since back-to-back titles from 2003-05.
“The one thing that sets this team apart from some of the others is that we are really a team and they love to play with each other,” said Ferris head coach Bill Sall. “It’s a testament to hard work, perseverance, and having guys that really want to play together.”
The Bulldogs trailed by 14 points halfway through the first half with Keenan in early foul trouble, but the team rallied back to knot the score at 34-34 going into the half.
Ferris came out in the second half knowing an outright division championship was on the line, and the team made sure no one would take that away.
Despite some runs from the Oilers to keep the game somewhat close in the second half, the Bulldogs outscored the Oilers 50-32 in the second stanza and shot a blistering 66.7 percent from the field in the half to clinch the victory and start the celebration. The Bulldogs also made the Oilers pay for their turnovers, as FSU scored 25 points off of 14 Oiler turnovers for the contest.
Keenan fittingly paced the Bulldogs with 19 points and nine rebounds in the contest, tying him with former Grand Valley standout John Flynn for the all-time lead in scoring in GLIAC history with 1,531 career points in conference play. Keenan will need only a point to take over the top spot in the record books with the regular season finale at home left on the schedule.
Fellow seniors Darien Gay and Lou Williams turned in double-digit scoring efforts as well, with Gay posting 16 points and Williams having 12 points.
“Coach knows that we have a lot of weapons and everybody knows that,” said sophomore forward Daniel Sutherlin. “When Justin goes out, it’s not a letdown. We still can get up…we just play hard and get it done.”
Ferris clinched the division on Saturday, but a 78-66 win over Wayne State on Thursday guaranteed at least a share of the division title before the monumental win against Findlay.
Ferris pounded the boards for a 35-23 rebounding edge in the contest and a 13-6 run to open the second half helped keep the Warriors at bay and get a key conference win going down the stretch. The lead changed eight times throughout the game, but eight Bulldog free throws in the final minute sealed the victory.
“It feels good, but we’ve got another big game on Saturday and we don’t want to share the championship with anybody,” said Keenan after the Thursday victory.
Keenan led the way with 22 points and seven rebounds and Gay chipped in 15 points. Senior guard Matt DeHart and Williams tossed in 12 points each.
The Bulldogs are now in prime position to win the GLIAC conference with the finale against rival Grand Valley at home for the only remaining regular-season contest for Ferris on Saturday.
Ferris has already clinched a home game in the quarter-final round of the GLIAC Tournament on March 2 with the weekend victories.
The GLIAC tournament isn’t the only tournament on the Bulldogs’ radar, as they are now in the hunt for a spot in the NCAA Division-II Tournament.
Ferris came into the weekend at ninth in the NCAA Division-II Midwest Regional Rankings before beating third-ranked Findlay and sixth-ranked Wayne State this weekend. The top eight teams in the region at year’s end will earn berths in the tournament. n