FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – The Marian University men's basketball team staved off a furious comeback by visiting Ripon College to record the, 76-74, non-conference victory in the home opener inside Sadoff Gymasium, this afternoon, Nov. 24.
Marian led by as many as 14 points in the game and held a 12-point advantage with just over a minute remaining before Ripon began to close the gap considerably. A solid team effort and execution for the majority of the game benefited the Sabres in earning the narrow victory.
"I was very pleased with the way we played defense. Overall, it was a great team performance," Head Coach Mark Boyle said. "The keys to the game were, defensively, taking things away from Ripon from what they wanted to do and the ability to get Cody [Veleke] the ball inside."
Cody Veleke led the Sabres with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Alex Stecker added 12 points and six assists, while Mike Keller also finished in double figures with 11. Drew Binversie came off the bench to chip in 13 points on 4-of-4 from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Marian improved to 2-2 overall with the win, while Ripon fell to 1-2 with the defeat.
Ripon jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first three minutes, but that was quickly erased as a 13-0 Marian run made 15-8 at the 12:08 mark. The solid play would continue for the duration of the first half as Marian shot 50 percent, going 15-for-30 from the field, while holding the Red Hawks to just 31 percent (9-for-29) shooting.
A 23-14 rebounding advantage and 22-8 edge in points in the paint also contributed to an eight-point, 34-26, halftime lead for the Sabres. Ripon's Tyler Ketz was the lone player in double figures at the break with 12, but four Sabres had at least six points in the balanced effort.
In the second half, the Marian advantage would grow as Ripon was forced to call a timeout after a Stecker layup made the score 40-31 less than five minutes in. Stecker's ability to penetrate the lane on numerous occasions was a valuable weapon that the Red Hawks showed they were unable to stop.
The lead would increase to 14 points at the 6:25 mark when Keller made it 61-47. Marian maintained a double-digit lead until about a minute to go when the Red Hawks put heavy pressure on and began clutch jumpers.
Trailing 74-62, Ketz fired a three and missed, but Andy Popp was there to clean up the rebound and put-back to cut the deficit to 10. Popp didn't stop there. Another rebound and put back was coupled with a Mark Keller foul and the old-fashioned three-point play suddenly made it a one possession game, 75-72, with nine seconds remaining.
The Red Hawks, who got help from missed Sabre free throws, fouled Veleke and the junior was able to make one-of-two to make the score 76-72. Ketz converted a layup, but just two seconds remained and the Sabres ran out the clock on the inbounds to escape with the win.
"We were fortunate to do just enough to hang on at the end," Boyle said. "Ripon never gave up. They kept coming at us. We just have to learn to finish the game a little better.
"This was a good game to take us into conference play," Boyle added. "It was a good, hard-fought effort and things will certainly be amped up a notch come NAC play."
Next up for the Sabres will be the Northern Athletics Conference home opener against visiting Concordia University Wisconsin. The Sabres fell in overtime on the road in their last meeting against the Falcons and will be looking to avenge that in a 7 p.m. meeting this Tuesday, Nov. 27.