By Mark DeHaan
HOLLAND - The Calvin women's basketball team traveled to Holland on Saturday to play Hope College in a battle for first place in the MIAA. Both teams were undefeated in conference play with identical 6-0 records.
Overall, the Knights came in at 13-0 while Hope was 14-1.
A pair of lead changes in the final ten seconds of the contest provided for an exciting finish, and on a layup from senior Hannah Acre, Calvin won for just the second time all-time at DeVos Fieldhouse, also keeping its undefeated season intact with a 78-76 victory.
The Flying Dutch opened with a quick-strike offense, including a pair of three-pointers, to claim an early 8-0 lead.
The Knights responded with ten straight points, with four points apiece from seniors Kayla Engelhard and Hannah Acre, to erase the deficit and take a 10-8 lead.
Midway through the opening half, the game was tied 22-22.
Calvin's defense then stepped up, holding Hope to just three field goals in the final ten minutes of the first half. The Knights offense, meanwhile, continued their strong play to outscore the Flying Dutch 17-7 in that span to give Calvin a 39-29 lead at halftime.
Senior Breanna Verkaik led Calvin with 11 points at the half while Mandy Traversa had eight for Hope.
The Knights forced the Flying Dutch into 13 first half turnovers.
Out of the break, the Calvin offense was flat and went nearly four minutes without scoring a basket, allowing Hope to close the gap to 39-36.
With 14:40 to go, a three from Traversa tied up the ball game at 39-39, forcing a timeout from Calvin head coach John Ross.
The Knights were able to hold Hope off for the time being, and on back-to-back triples from freshman Ali Spayde with 10:44 remaining, Calvin built its lead back up to 54-46.
The Knights advantage then stood at 64-57 with 7:24 to go, but an 8-0 run by the Flying Dutch gave Hope its first lead of the second half at 65-64.
The game continued to be close, and with 2:24 to go, the score was 73-73. A jumper from Engelhard put Calvin ahead 75-73 with just over two minutes to play.
With 0:09 remaining, and with the ball in Hope's possession, Flying Dutch guard Brittany Berry made a driving layup, drawing a foul in the process. Berry then made the free-throw to give Hope a 76-75 lead.
With the ball in Calvin's hands, senior Breanna Verkaik made her way along the baseline to draw a pair of defenders, then dishing the ball off to Acre who was open under the basket.
With a spinning left-hand shot, Acre also made a shot and drew a foul, then completing the three-point play to put Calvin ahead 78-76.
Hope had one more chance with less than two seconds remaining, but was unable to get a shot off as Calvin handed Hope just its fifth loss ever at DeVos Fieldhouse, compared to 146 Flying Dutch victories.
The Knights shot 45.7% for the game while Hope hit 46.4%. Calvin forced the Flying Dutch into 22 turnovers for the game, also out-rebounding the home team 39-37.
Individually, Acre had 16 points and six boards for Calvin. Verkaik added 15 points and eight rebounds and Engelhard added a near triple-double with 12 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
For Hope, Maura McAfee led all scorers with 19 points. Rebekah Llorens scored 16 while Traversa had 15 and Barry had 14.
"Real proud of how our team competed and responded all game – this is an impossible place to win at," said Calvin head coach John Ross. "We would get up, then they would get up – it was a seesaw, and we kept fighting and fighting. It was a heavyweight (fight) of hopefully two of the best Division III teams in the country."
"You expected that it would be close," said Hope head coach Brian Morehouse. "I thought in the second half we responded and played a lot tougher."
Calvin now sits alone atop the MIAA at 7-0 and 14-0 overall, while Hope falls to 14-2 and 6-1 in conference play.
The Knights now look forward to Wednesday when they travel to Kalamazoo for an 8:00 p.m. league contest.