For the fourth time in six years, the Bulldogs are GLIAC regular season champions.
Ferris entered their Thursday, Feb. 24 matchup against Michigan Tech tied with the Huskies atop the GLIAC standings with first place on the line. Ferris pulled out a 76-72 overtime victory and clinched at least a share of the GLIAC regular season title with the win.
The electric overtime win led the Bulldogs to the fourth net cutting ceremony in six years. But the win on Thursday meant just a little bit more to the men’s basketball program as it was head coach Andy Bronkema’s 200th total victory at the head of the Bulldog basketball. Bronkema joins the legendary company of the former Bulldog basketball coaches at the two century mark in Jim Wink and Tom Ludwig, cementing a legacy in Ferris history.
“I’m coaching a lot of great players, that’s just how I see it,” Bronkema said. “I remember how I got the job, and we’ve been fighting everyday.”
The Bulldogs finished the regular season at 21-7, continuing the elite level of basketball that the program has seen under Bronkema. They finished conference play tied with Michigan Tech for the top spot in the GLIAC with a conference record of 16-4. That effort was enough to secure home court advantage for two games in the conference tournament.
The team will host the GLIAC championship tournament by welcoming the #8 seeded Davenport Panthers for the opening round on Wednesday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. A win on Wednesday would allow the Bulldogs to also host the semi-finals and finals on March 5 and 6.
On Thursday, Feb. 24, both Ferris and Michigan Tech had strong second halves. But both teams struggled to score in the first 20 minutes. The Huskies normally dominate from three-point range but average shot just 21% heading to the locker room going 3-14. Ferris didn’t shoot much better, only making one three out of seven attempts.
The lack of shooting prowess isn’t the only reason that the score stayed lower in the first half. Both teams forced each other to the end of the shot clock multiple times, proving that the defensive abilities of the teams were a big reason that brought them to the top of the GLIAC standings.
“We knew Michigan Tech was a good team, and that showed. They came out and played hard,” senior Walt Kelser said.
The Bulldogs went to the locker room ahead 25-22. When they returned, the Huskies jumped in the lead thanks to senior Owen White. The momentum shift gave the traveling crowd a boost, as they matched the intensity of the Bulldog fans.
The Bulldogs and Huskies would stay in a locked battle trading baskets up until the ninth minute of play in the second half. The Huskies took a seven point lead but Ferris rallied the crowd and battled back to bring it within three. Another flurry of shots from the Huskies put them up by six with just over five minutes left to play.
“I think we were down seven. We just stayed positive the whole time,” Kelser said.
That positivity would radiate to the crowd after Kelser pulled down a big defensive rebound, getting fouled during the process. He made both free throws, adding to his perfect 12-12, giving the Bulldogs more momentum to come back.
Ferris went on a quick 10-0 run and took the lead. White kept Michigan Tech alive, recording 17 second half points.
The highlight of the night came in the final seconds of regulation. White drained two free throws to bring the Husky lead to three with seven seconds left on the clock, so Bronkema gave the green light to Kelser to send the game to overtime. Sprinting down the right side of the court, Kelser pulled up from NBA range over three Tech players to make the game tying three and send the game to overtime.
“Coach Bronkema said ‘You know we need a three, so dribble up the floor and just try to get the best shot you could’. That’s what I did and it went in, thank God,” Kelser said.
Wink erupted into cheers and screams, but the excitement died down as the officials gave Ferris a technical fan because a fan went onto the court to celebrate the shot. Michigan Tech started the overtime with a technical free throw.
“I was a little paranoid that they wouldn’t stay back because the officials were warning them, correctly,” Bronkema said. “I was at one point screaming for Wes (Brennan) to get them behind the barricade.”
White missed the free throw, adding to the momentum for the Bulldogs. The game was back and forth for the five minutes, but a very strong defensive showing from senior Dorian Aluyi was a key factor that helped Ferris control the score. Despite having four fouls, he forced White into tough shots and stayed disciplined to not foul out.
“I wanted to pressure up, get into him and make him go around me,” Aluyi said. “If I got a blocking foul off of that, I’m okay with that, but I didn’t want to give him space to shoot.”
In the dying seconds, Aluyi stole the ball from White and get fouled during the process. Aluyi calmly hit both free throws and clinched the game and regular season GLIAC championship for Ferris.
“It was a similar situation to two years ago. It was the same score, we were up two, and I had the same opportunity to put us up by four,” Aluyi said. “It was the second to last game, against Tech again.”
Despite clinching at least a share of the regular season title, the job wasn’t finished as Ferris faced the Northern Michigan Wildcats just two days later.
Saturday was also senior night. Dorian Aluyi, Lee Higgins, Logan Ryan, and Walt Kelser were honored during halftime.
Not wanting to repeat the theatrics of the previous game, Bronkema and his team wanted to push the game early. Establishing the full court press on the Wildcats almost instantaneously, Ferris forced 10 turnovers in the first half. But when the Wildcat offense got set up on their half, it proved to be difficult for the Bulldogs.
“We didn’t play any defense. You know, they shot thirty three-pointers,” Bronkema said. “We weren’t in tune with what we wanted to do. Mistakes caused us to feel the wrong way.”
Kelser led the Bulldogs in scoring with 19, falling short of his 32 point performance just a couple days before. However, play was picked up by the senior big man Logan Ryan who added 16 to the Bulldog’s total. The duo was followed by freshman Ethan Erickson, who started an onslaught of three pointers in the second half.
Off the bench, sophomore Vejas Grazulis picked up a big slam dunk on a fast break to put the Bulldogs up by 10. Then freshman Mykel Bingham added a big dunk near the end of the first half as well.
Despite a strong shooting effort in the first half to go up by 15 heading to the lockers, the lead was short lived when play resumed. Max Bjorklund of Northern Michigan led the second half comeback, scoring 40 points in the final 20 minutes alone. The Wildcats won 93-87.
“We know what we have to do now,” Aluyi said. “Shoutout to Max, he had a great individual performance today with 46. We couldn’t stop him. I think we still could’ve picked up the win, but that’s the details that we learn is how to win when somebody is going off like that.”
The loss left a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouths. However, the motivation to claim both the regular season and tournament championship became that much greater.