Luke Reigel is in his 16th season coaching the UW-Parkside men’s basketball team, and he gained plenty of coaching experience before that.
Reigel’s father, Tom, is an assistant for his son now and a Wisconsin State Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who guided Wilmot to a pair of undefeated state championships and has seen probably about all there is to see in basketball.
Well, neither father or son has seen anything like this.
In a string of games that can be accurately described as hard to believe, the Rangers won their latest nail-biter Thursday night when freshman guard Brandon Trimble got a tough floater to fall with a second left, giving Parkside a 74-72 win over Indiana Northwest in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season finale in Hammond, Ind.
In the process, the Rangers (15-11 overall) claimed the GLIAC North Division title outright with a 13-7 conference mark. They entered Thursday tied with Ferris State, but Lake Superior State helped the Rangers with an 86-66 home thrashing of the Bulldogs that left Parkside alone in first.
And what a journey it’s been.
Parkside’s last nine games have been decided by a total of 34 points, with most of them coming down to the final seconds. So why should the division-clinching win be any different?
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and I haven’t seen a stretch like this,” Luke Reigel said. “’Coach Reigs’ (Tom Reigel’s nickname) has been doing this for a lot longer than I have, and he’s never seen a stretch like this. We’ve been playing close games for a month.
“... When you win a division title, you really don’t care if you win by one or 100.”
Parkside, which had already clinched a first-round home game in the GLIAC Tournament, finished as the No. 3 seed in the overall standings and will host No. 6 seed Lake Superior State at the DeSimone Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
But the Rangers will take some time to celebrate a division title, something that seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream at one point.
Parkside entered its first season in the GLIAC an inexperienced if talented squad, but after a brutal 0-2 holiday trip to Fort Smith, Ark., dropped them to 3-6, things were not looking good.
“If you would’ve said that to me on the bus ride home from Arkansas, I’d have probably said you were out a little bit too late the night before,” Reigel said when asked how he’d have replied earlier in this season if told his team would win the GLIAC North.
“We were a mess coming back from Arkansas.”
But Reigel pointed out that the Rangers’ effort never wavered, and things started clicking into place.
“We’ve just grown so much since Christmas,” said Reigel, who cited — among others — the steadying presence of sophomore Ramar Evans at point guard the last couple moths. “There’s certain areas that we’ve gotten so much better in following the New Year.
“It’s a simple game when you do the things that we’ve gotten better at.”
Parkside didn’t have its best offensive performance Thursday against a Purdue Northwest team that finished its season 7-21 overall and 3-17 in the conference, last place in the GLIAC, and was the conference’s worst scoring defense.
But Trimble came through big-time off the bench, scoring 28 points in 25 minutes on 11-of-21 shooting. He made 4-of-6 3-pointers.
“He had it going throughout the game tonight, and we needed it,” Reigel said. “We weren’t great offensively. We needed that shot in the arm off the bench.”
Redshirt senior forward Chip Flanigan totaled 16 points, five assists and eight rebounds, Evans had 11 points, three assists, three steals and four boards, redshirt freshman center Joey St. Pierre had four blocks and eight rebounds and redshirt freshman wing Brandon Hau chipped in nine points and six boards.
But the Rangers could not shake the Pride, who led by six at 62-56 with 7 minutes, 10 seconds remaining and — after the Rangers battled back — tied it at 72-72 when Anthony Barnard (team-high 17 points) made 1-of-2 free throws with 7 seconds left.
Reigel decided not to call timeout, and with Pride defenders plastering Flanigan and Evans, Trimble got the ball. He raced up the floor and released a floater that Reigel said rolled around the rim and trickled in.
Just another run-of-the-mill victory — and a division title — for the Rangers.
“Our fans get their money’s worth, more than any fans in the country,” Reigel said. “Every game goes down to the last 30 seconds.”