HOLLAND, Mich. – The Calvin men's basketball team faced top-seeded rival Hope College in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament Championship on Saturday night at Hope's DeVos Fieldhouse. The contest marked the 196th edition of the Rivalry and the third meeting between the two teams this season.
In the first matchup of the season on January 25, the Dutch took an 87-67 victory at Van Noord Arena. In the return matchup last Saturday, Calvin snapped Hope's 13-game win streak and ruined its perfect MIAA record, upsetting the Flying Dutchmen 65-62 in overtime.
In Friday night's semifinal action, the Knights defeated Trine 75-64 while Hope claimed a 63-45 win over Alma.
It was Calvin that earned the tie-breaking win, coming back from a 12-point halftime deficit to claim its 12th MIAA Tournament title, its ninth under head coach Kevin Vande Streek. The Knights now lead the conference for most tournament championships, as Hope sits in second place with 11.
"One thing I've said about this team most of the year is that we may not be the most talented, and we are probably not the prettiest, but we don't ever quit," said Vande Streek. "At halftime, I thought Hope couldn't have played any better in the first half. I just thought we had to keep grinding one possession at a time. It was a battle, and we found a way to make one more play and get ahead at the end. I give our guys all the credit."
"This win really just affirms the fact that hard work pays off," said senior captain Nick Kronemeyer (Hamilton, Mich./Hamilton HS). "I think collectively as a group we've put in the work and really believed in each other. There's nothing better."
The Knights struggled score early in the contest going, not scoring a field goal until four minutes into the contest when Kronemeyer put in a layup. Hope's offense came out strong, jumping out to a 13-4 lead by the first media timeout behind eight points from junior Dante Hawkins.
Hope continued to build its lead, as seniors Chad Carlson and MIAA MVP Harrison Blackledge drained three-pointers to make the score 19-6. The Dutchmen were 5-6 from behind the three-point arc in the first six minutes of play.
Kronemeyer would push back for the Knights, pulling up at the elbow to drain a jump shot and knocking down 1-2 free throws in the next Calvin possession. However, the Dutchmen answered with another triple as Hawkins hit his third of the game.
Calvin began to chip away at Hope's lead as freshman Tony DeWitte (Grandville, Mich./Calvin Christian) heated up, scoring seven points for the Knights. With 9:12 left to play in the first half, DeWitte connected on a three-pointer to reduce Hope's lead to seven.
Scoring became more balanced as the teams exchanged points for the following four minutes. As the five-minute mark approached, Hope earned back its double-digit lead as senior Mitchell O'Brien sunk a three and Hawkins capitalized on a layup. With 4:28 to go before halftime, the scoreboard read 36-25 in favor of the Dutchmen.
Calvin would cut Hope's lead to eight by way of free throws, but Hope responded with a 6-0 run. The Knights outscored the Dutch 6-4 in the final 1:30 before the break, but Hope rolled into halftime with a 46-34 lead.
Things turned around for the Knights in the second half.
"We went into halftime thinking, 'they're playing well and we're not making anything,'" said Kronemeyer. "The thing was that we kept believing. We talked about it at halftime – Hope doesn't think we're going to win the game nobody in the crowd thinks we're going to win the game, but our team had to keep believing that we're going to win the game, and I think that's what we did tonight."
The Knights outscored the Dutchmen 9-1 before Hope would call timeout. DeWitte stepped up for the Knights, hitting a big three and then a jumper in the paint to make the score 47-43 three minutes into the half.
A free throw by Cam Denney (Bluffton, Ind./Norwell HS) would bring Calvin within three points of the Dutchmen, but Hawkins sunk his fourth three of evening to make the score 50-44.
With 15 minutes left to play, the Knights' pushed back, as Denney sunk a pair of free throws and then knocked down a three to narrow the deficit to one point.
After big plays by sophomore Austin Bykerk (Jenison, Mich./Unity Christian HS), the Knights found themselves within two points of Hope. Bykerk knocked down a pair of free throws and then, one minute later, dove on the ground to secure the loose ball and called timeout. Out of the break, Bykerk scored for the Knights, bringing the score 62-60, still in favor of the Dutchmen.
With just over seven minutes to go, Denney banked in a jumper to knot the score at 64. Hope's Teddy Ray went 1-2 from the line to earn back to lead, but Wilks would shoot for the bonus in on the other end of the floor, knocking down both shots to give Calvin its first lead of the game.
Stuive converted on Hope's 11th three-pointer of the night, but Kronemeyer tied the game back up, making a layup.
After a pair of free throws by Hawkins, Michael Welch (Stevensville, Mich./Lakeshore HS) capitalized on a three-point play to give the Knights a three-point lead with 3:19 remaining.
As the two-minute mark approached, Denney hit a big three to give Calvin its largest lead of the evening, but Hope's Carlson answered with a triple of his own.
Welch scored for the Knights to go up by three points, but Stuive hit a shot to bring the Dutchmen within one. Hope called timeout following the bucket.
Out of the break, Hope's Carlson forced a Calvin turnover, but the Dutchmen were unable to capitalize off the Calvin error. Welch scored, but Hawkins followed with a made layup. On the inbounds play, the Dutchmen fouled Wilks. Wilks knocked down both free throws with ease.
The Knights allowed Hawkins to score on the other end of the floor, and Hope would call timeout immediately after the bucket. Out of the break, Calvin inbounded the ball successfully, and Hope fouled Wilks. Wilks would once again knock down both shots from the charity stripe.
After a Calvin timeout, the Knights fouled Carlson, sending him to the line and preventing an attempt at a game-tying three-pointer. Carlson went 2-2 from the line to make it a one-point once again.
Tony Canonie (South Haven, MI/South Haven HS) was fouled once the Knights inbounded the ball with just seconds left on the clock. Canonie had not scored all night, but he stepped up when it counted, knocking down two free throws to secure a Calvin victory.
"I was confident going down the stretch that Mike Wilks would hit his four free throws and also that I was going to hit mine," said Canonie.
Cam Denney led the Knights with 21 points, including 15 second-half points. Denney also led the Knights with eight rebounds and four assists. Welch finished with 15 points, all but two of them coming in the second half. Wilks and DeWitte registered 14 points apiece in the win; Wilks was 10-10 from the free throw line and snagged seven boards. Kronemeyer chipped in nine points.
"Cam loves his teammates probably more than everyone I've ever had, so it means so much to him to have the second half that he did," said Vande Streek. "He made so many clutch plays and was the vocal leader."
Dante Hawkins led all players with 35 points, including five three-pointers. Stuive finished with 17 points, while Blackledge was held to 10 shots for 12 points. Hope made 12 three-pointers in the loss.
With the victory, the Knights receive an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE