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Men’s Basketball Falls to Aquinas in First Round of Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame Tournament

Saturday, November 29, 2008

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Box Score

(written by Bruce VanBaren)

HOLLAND- After capturing Calvin’s opening tip-off tournament convincingly last weekend, the Knights suffered a let down in the first round of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame Classic Friday at Hope College. Calvin was unable to overcome a 17-point first half deficit and fell 78-73 to Aquinas for the Knights’ first loss of the season.

“We weren’t awful the first ten minutes, but we were probably 70% of where we needed to be,” coach Kevin VandeStreek said. “You can’t beat good teams playing (the first) ten minutes like that.”

Calvin fails to reach the tournament championship game for just the second time in its ten appearances in the Hall of Fame Classic. The Knights fall to 10-9 all-time in the annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament and haven’t won it since 2001.

Pedja Lazic, who drained two free throws to beat the Knights in last years Hall of Fame championship game, again hurt the Knights with a game high 19 points. He also had seven rebounds and hit 9 of 12 free throws. John Lierman, making his season debut after suffering a knee injury, torched Calvin for 18 points and seven rebounds.

“We didn’t come to work tonight,” John Mantel (Chelsea HS), who had 14 points and three rebounds, said. “It all comes down to the fact that we didn’t play defense and we weren’t doing the dictating.”

Still the Knights had a shot to win their third straight game. Caleb Veldhouse (Sioux Falls Christian), who hit a buzzer beater in last year’s double overtime loss to Aquinas in the tournament championship, missed on two chances to hit the equalizer.

With 19 seconds left and the Knights trailing 75-73, Veldhouse’s baseline pull-up jumper banged in and out. After Lazic hit one of two free throws, Veldhouse crossed Aquinas’ Jordan Torres and pulled the trigger on a 23-footer, but left it just short.

“Torres is a pretty good defender and we’ve had our battles over the four years we’ve played (against each other),” Veldhouse, who matched Lazic’s game high 19 points, said. “The first one I had a good look, it’s just one that didn’t go in. The last one, I should have taken more time to get a better look. I missed them both. That’s what it comes down to.”

“Caleb was the guy,” VandeStreek said. “We wanted to put the ball in his hands to make a play as he has done his entire career. He made a good decision; it was just a tough situation to be in.”

Aquinas broke a 24-6 run midway through the first half with excellent perimeter shooting from guards Lierman and Ty Motley as well as Lazic’s dominating post presence. Aquinas shot 56.7% in the first half, hit four three pointers and doubled up Calvin on the boards 22-11.

“Offense is about passing and dribbling penetration,” VandeStreek said. “They seemed to do a pretty good job of both (tonight). Pedja is just really good. He is as good of small college post player as there is around.”

The Knights trailed by 17 points with 4:18 to play in the first half, but were able to hit six free throws and close the half on a 7-0 run to cut the halftime deficit to ten points. Matt Veltema (Calvin Christian) drained a three-pointer six minutes into the half to cut the deficit to six points.

The Saints were able to rebuild their double-digit lead before Veltema’s second three-pointer again cut the deficit to six points. Veltema’s three-pointers were Calvin’s first two from downtown after the Knights went 0 for 9 from beyond the arc in the first half.

“Over the last 25 minutes we had a lot of success,” VandeStreek said. “We did the same thing (they did most of the first half)… we got to the line a lot.”

Veltema and Dustin Smith (Hamilton) joined Veldhouse and Mantel in double figures. Veltema had 12 points while Smith added 11 points, including a three with a minute remaining to give the Knights a shot at the tie.

Aquinas shot 51.9% to Calvin’s 44.8% and connected on 6 of 18 shots from beyond the arc. Calvin was just 3 of 17 shooting from downtown and was outrebounded 37-26. Motley was the third Saint in double figures with 10 points.

A year ago Calvin began the season knocking off top ranked Washington University, but fell to the Saints in the fourth game of the season. Mantel said the loss set the tone for the Knights’ 16-11 record and lack of consistency the rest of the season.

“This is one of the defining moments in the season,” Mantel said. “Last year we had a good opening weekend and we died in the Hall of Fame tournament. That set the tone for the season. (Tomorrow) is huge.”

Calvin faces Cornerstone tomorrow at 6 p.m. at DeVos Fieldhouse. The Golden Eagles fell 82-74 to Hope College. The Knights beat Cornerstone 82-77 in the teams’ first round meeting in the Hall of Fame tournament last year.

“We’re pretty ticked off and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” Veldhouse said. “If we can’t get excited for tomorrow’s game then we won’t be able to get excited for any game this year.”

NOTES: Caleb Veldhouse’s 19 point effort moves him past Chris Prins (2004) to ninth on the all-time Calvin scoring list with 1,362…Calvin falls to 6-5 all-time in games played in the DeVos Fieldhouse… Calvin is 35-50 over the last four years when trailing at halftime… Calvin is 25-25 in games decided by six points or less over the last four years… Calvin beat Spring Arbor 71-61, while Aquinas fell to Spring Arbor 67-56 at Cornerstone on November 14.

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