SOMERS — If the players on the UW-Parkside men’s basketball team are intentionally trying to give coach Luke Reigel severe heartburn every night, they’re doing a splendid job.
In a fierce Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal against Lake Superior State at the DeSimone Gymnasium on Tuesday night, the Rangers did what they’ve done often this season.
They kept letting the Lakers back in the game in the second half whenever it seemed Parkside would pull away.
But the Rangers also did something they’ve done during a second half in which they clinched the GLIAC North Division title: Whenever it seems like they’re about to cave in, they get things back together.
That was exactly the pattern Tuesday, as third-seeded Parkside failed to widen what was twice a seven-point lead in the second half against sixth-seeded Lake Superior State
But after losing the lead, the Rangers immediately regained it and made all the plays down the stretch for a 75-68 victory.
“We just can’t stand prosperity,” Reigel said. “When we get a lead, we do two or three dumb things to give it right back, and we’ve been doing that all year.
“But the good thing is, when they come back, we regain our composure and get the ball in the right spots, and that was the difference.”
With their third win this season over the Lakers (15-12) — by a total of 11 points — the Rangers improved to 16-11 and moved into Saturday’s GLIAC Tournament semifinals at 4:30 p.m. against sixth-seeded Grand Valley State (18-12), which won at second-seeded Ashland on Tuesday.
The semifinals and Sunday’s 2 p.m. title game — which will determine the GLIAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament — will be played at Davenport in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The top-seeded Panthers escaped Tuesday with an 85-84 win over eighth-seeded Northwood and will face fifth-seeded Northern Michigan — which took out defending national champion Ferris State on Tuesday — in a semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The highest remaining seed hosts the semifinals and the championship game, and that was nearly Parkside.
With Ashland going down, had Northwood managed a basket on its last possession to beat Davenport, the Rangers would be hosting this weekend.
But it wasn’t to be.
“One point?” Parkside redshirt senior forward Chip Flanigan said incredulously when told how close Parkside came to hosting.
“That just tells you this conference is talented, top to bottom,” Flanigan said. “You never know who’s going to win every night.”
For the Rangers to advance, it took contributions up and down the roster.
Flanigan, the team’s leading scorer, hit the game’s two biggest shots but was held to nine points on 4-of-9 shooting.
Senior guard Adam Bonk scored 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, redshirt freshman wing Brandon Hau scored 11 points, redshirt freshman guard Brandon Trimble scored 13 off the bench to go with seven rebounds and redshirt freshman center Joey St. Pierre blocked six shots in addition to his seven points.
But perhaps the biggest contributions came from steady sophomore point guard Ramar Evans, who matched Bonk with 14 points, grabbed five boards and played terrific defense.
“The number one thing Ramar brings us is toughness,” Reigel said. “We took five charges today. I think he took three or four of them, and he does it all the time. He does it in practice, he does it when it matters. He defends, he helps us on the boards.
“He does things that don’t always show up in the box score, and he’s been that guy that’s helped us right the ship here in the second half of the year.”
The Lakers, who were led by Rog Stein’s game-high 22 points and nine rebounds and Tim Cairnduff’s 16 points, trailed 60-54 after a Hau 3 from the left wing with 8 minutes, 20 seconds left.
Lake Superior State went on a 7-0 run to take a 61-60 lead with 4:31 left. Hounded by the stout defense of the Lakers’ C.J. Robinson all night, Flanigan finally got his offense going when the Rangers needed it most.
He took a post feed near the baseline and scored on a nice spin move for a 62-61 lead with 3:23 remaining. After a baseline drive by Trimble made it 64-61, Flanigan put another nice spin move on Robinson and muscled one in with his left hand while being fouled.
He made the free throw — the Rangers were a terrific 16-of-18 from the line — to complete the three-point play and give Parkside a 67-61 lead with 2:14 left.
“I don’t look to score as much as (his coaches) want me to,” Flanigan conceded. “I didn’t worry about taking bad shots. I knew they were going to fall. A lot of them went in and out. I was getting frustrated, but I knew I could do more than just scoring.
“… I knew they would eventually fall.”
The Lakers got within 67-65, but Bonk corralled a loose ball after it was knocked from his hands and fed Hau in close for an easy layup and a 69-65 lead.
The Rangers handled things from there, with Hau’s home-run pass against the Lakers’ press finding a streaking Flanigan for an emphatic two-handed dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy with seconds left.