After starting the season 18-3, Ferris looked to be top contenders for the number one regional seed in the upcoming Division II National Tournament. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, those plans would soon be derailed.
While the Bulldogs still earned the top seed for the GLIAC tournament, their quarterfinal test would prove to be tougher than the seeding would show. In the home opener, Ferris faced fellow west Michigan foe Davenport. Both teams came into the contest at a 1-1 split on the season, creating the ultimate postseason tiebreaker.
The game began as a constant back-and-forth affair. Five of the first six Panther baskets were answered by the Bulldogs on the succeeding possession. Physical presence became a focus throughout the contest, including an eventual 54 combined fouls in the contest. While shooting numbers dwindled early on for both teams, Davenport used points off eleven first half Ferris turnovers to take a four-point lead at halftime.
“We were playing to not make a mistake, which led to making more mistakes,” head coach Andy Bronkema said.
Similar to the second regular season matchup, the trailing team began the half hot and took an early second half lead. This time it was Ferris, who used a 10-4 run to take a 49-47 advantage. The game from there became a give and take battle down the stretch, mainly between Davenport’s Jarrin Randall and Ferris’ Walt Kelser. Both players continuously went basket-for-basket, keeping the game within arm’s reach for both teams. While the Bulldogs streaked together a seven-point lead with just over five minutes to go, the Panthers cut the lead to an 88-88 deadlock three minutes later. Both teams answered two-point punches to bring the game down to a final possession tied at 90-90, in which Chris Rollins was able to draw a foul with four seconds to go. Rollins would make the second of two free throws, giving the Panthers the 91-90 upset.
Walt Kelser paced the Bulldogs with 35 points, followed by Ben Davidson with 12 points off the bench. Reece Hazelton added six rebounds along with Logan Ryan tallying five. Jimmy Scholler had a team-high seven assists with Lee Higgins adding two steals.
“Our team didn’t play well down the stretch,” Davidson said. “It ended up costing us the game. “They deserved to beat us that night.”
This is the second early exit the Bulldogs have endured as the top seed in the last three years. Back in 2019, Northern Michigan played spoiler as an eight seed in the opening quarterfinal round. The difference in 2022: the underdog Panthers went on the sweep the semi-final and championship games to win the tournament title.
“For everybody out there that isn’t respecting the GLIAC, the eight seed just won going away,” Bronkema said. “That just shows you the strength and the depth of our league.”
Since the Feb. 5 win over rival Grand Valley, Ferris has lost five of its last eight games. This slight slip-up gave Michigan Tech the opportunity to share the GLIAC regular season crown following their 9-1 finish. Despite these slip-ups, the Bulldogs have still remained a top threat in the GLIAC. Ferris State has won four of the last seven GLIAC tournaments and three regular season championships. What do these titles have in common? They give the Bulldogs a chance to earn a second National Championship.
“We put in hard work for an opportunity like this,” Bronkema said to the media Tuesday. “It’s all for a chance. Even though it’s our expectation, it’s still our goal.”
The Bulldogs earned the number two seed in the Midwest bracket during Sunday’s selection show. Their first matchup will include a familiar foe they played earlier this season: the Findlay Oilers. In their early Nov. 23 matchup, Findlay used a huge first half to top Ferris 86-74 in Ohio.
“We’ve played Findlay in some big games,” Bronkema said. “They took it to us earlier this season, but we are a different team now. We’re going to put our best foot forward and go after them with everything we have.”
For players like Dorian Aluyi, this will be the first chance to compete in the National Tournament since the COVID-19 cancellation of the 2020 tourney. When asked on the opportunity, Aluyi is ready to maximize on the chance.
“We were literally on the bus about an hour out when we had to turn around. This year, we are looking to get there and make a huge run.”
To follow the men’s team postseason run, visit the “Men’s Basketball” tab at www.ferrisstatebulldogs.com.