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March 3, 2013

Rose-Hulman can't match Calvin's offense in Division III tournament

TERRE HAUTE — It was billed as the best first-round matchup in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament, and visiting Calvin College rose to the occasion Saturday night in Rose-Hulman’s Hulbert Arena.

The Knights pulled away from a two-point halftime lead by hitting 18 of 22 field goal attempts in the second half — against the nation’s best Division III scoring defense, remember — and ended the Engineers’ season by a 72-52 score.

Calvin entered the game ranked 12th in the nation, Rose-Hulman 19th — the only first-round pairing of two top-20 teams — and the Knights, who won national championships in 1992 and 2000, played like they could have finished a lot higher in the polls.

“That’s a team that’s really good,” coach Jim Shaw of the Engineers said of the Knights afterward, “and they played outstanding. If they play that way, they’ll be hard to beat by just about anybody.”

After eight lead changes in the first 111⁄2 minutes, the visitors started to open some daylight late in the first half with a 9-0 run for a 23-15 lead.

Rose came back with eight in a row of its own, however, Julian Strickland scoring five of the eight, and tied the score at 23 before a jumper by Calvin’s Tyler Kruis with nine seconds left gave the Knights their halftime advantage.

Calvin hit its first three shots of the second half to take an eight-point lead, but Austin Weatherford drove for a spectacular three-point play. After a basket by Mickey DeVries of the visitors, the Engineers put scores back to back — a free throw by Brenton Balsbaugh, then a basket by Jon Gerken set up by a Weatherford deflection.

Another basket by DeVries was followed by a blocked shot by Calvin’s 6-foot-9 Daniel Stout — “Our learning curve [against Calvin’s height and length] wasn’t particularly good,” Shaw said later — and a coast-to-coast drive with the defensive rebound by Tom Snikkers made the lead eight points at 37-29.

Gerken answered with a huge 3-pointer that Rose fans hoped would blunt the Calvin momentum, but instead the Knights got six more points in a row. Now it was 43-32, and the game was slipping away.

“We got out and ran the break really well,” coach Kevin Vande Streek of the Knights said after the game. “We got some easy baskets in transition and that kind of got us going … we had a hard time running stuff against [the Engineer defense].”

“Calvin shoots, the net moves,” Shaw summarized later. “We were probably taking some chances [defensively] we usually don’t take in the last few minutes, but [the Knights] made us pay every time.”

“We’re a defensive team. We’re used to stopping our opponents,” Strickland said. “Eighty percent [for the second half]? That’s pretty good. It’s hard to come back and counter that.”

“It’s deflating to see those shots [by the Knights] go in,” Weatherford added.

Snikkers had a game-high 20 points and Bryan Powell came off the bench for 16 for the Knights, who started the 6-9 Kruis and 6-8 Tyler Dykstra while bringing Stout and the 6-7 DeVries — who scored 11 — off the bench.

“This was probably the worst matchup we could have gotten,” Shaw said, referring to the length of the Engineer opponent. “There are a lot of things we take advantage of in our league that we can’t with Calvin … it was difficult to adjusdt to that length.”

Strickland had 17 points and Gerken 12 for Rose-Hulman.

“It was an abrupt ending to a great season,” Shaw said. “No doubt we had a great season with great kids … this team made a niche for itself [the 24-4 record matches the best mark in school history] that will stand a long time.”

Weatherford was one of five Rose-Hulman seniors who finished their careers in back-to-back NCAA tournaments, after a seven-win campaign as freshmen.

“It didn’t get started with me,” he emphasized. “It’s a special feeling to be part of that [turnaround] … I’ve been blessed having the coaching staff and the players around me that I have. It’s been a lot of fun, with memories I’ll keep forever.”

“Props to the seniors,” Strickland, a junior, said. “They showed me the ropes when I got here, the way to do things around here … next year [my senior class has to] follow suit.”

“It’s been a great year,” said Shaw. “Not only from a wins-and-losses standpoint … there’s not been one guy on this team that’s been difficult.

“I’ve been really blessed,” the coach added. “If they were all like this, coaching would be easy.”

Shaw also made it a point to thank the Rose-Hulman fans for a season of support. “They’ve been tremendous this year,” he said, “and some of that might be a reflection on the kind of team we had. These guys were all well liked and respected in the campus community.”

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