By Dean Holzwarth
Like most seniors during tournament time, Cody Stuive wasn't ready to see his collegiate career come to an end.
The 6-foot-7 Hope College forward from Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville HS), calmly sank a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining to help seal an 87-85 win over Wisconsin-Oshkosh Friday night in a NCAA III Men's Basketball Tournament opener at DeVos Fieldhouse.
The 18th-ranked Flying Dutchmen (22-6) advance to Saturday's 7 p.m. second-round game against Washington St.-Louis (21-5), which defeated Ripon 87-72 in Friday's first game.
"Those were probably the biggest free throws of my career," said Stuive, who finished with 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"I just drowned everything else out and kind of thought like I was at practice. They went in, and it was great, and I wasn't ready to be done playing. I wasn't ready to be done on this court in front of these fans."
Hope will look to move into sectionals against a Washington-St. Louis team that scored 60 second-half points in its win after trailing by 15 at the half.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at the DeVos Fieldhouse ticket office on Saturday between 10 a.m. - noon or by calling (616) 395-7890.
DeVos Fieldhouse doors open at 6 p.m. Saturday. Remaining tickets will be sold at this time.
"Their size, length and mass will challenge us," head coach Greg Mitchell said. "We have to be intelligent, gritty and tough. I have great respect for their tradition and their program and it's a survive-and-advance situation. I think it's going to be won by emotion, passion and grit. I believe in our guys."
Hope overcame a furious late rally by the Titans (17-11) to advance.
The Flying Dutchmen led by 13 at 82-69 after a fast-break dunk from sophomore forward Teddy Ray of Fort Wayne, Indiana (Homestead HS) with less than 4 minutes remaining.
Oshkosh shrunk the Hope lead to 85-83 before Stuive's clutch free throws.
"Obviously, we're very pleased with the win and very pleased with how we played for 40 minutes," Mitchell said. "I thought the biggest key for us was how we started the second half. That's been sometimes a hiccup for us, but I thought we did a nice job there. I'm pleased to be moving on, that's for sure."
The Flying Dutchmen had six players reach double-figures, led by MIAA MVP Harrison Blackledge, of Canton, Ohio (Hoover).
Blackledge recorded 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He was joined by junior guard Dante Hawkins of Holland, Michigan (Holland), who had 16 and senior Chad Carlson of Rockford, Michigan (Rockford), who chipped in 13.
Senior guard Mitchell O'Brien of Manteno, Illinois (Bishop McNamara) came off the bench to score 11 points — all in the first half. Ray finished with 10.
"When you get that many guys in double figures in this type of environment, at this stage, that's exactly what this team needs," Mitchell said. "We are a sum of the parts. We beat a really good basketball team that makes you pay when you make a mistake."
Blackledge didn't want a repeat of his freshman year, when his team lost in the tournament opener at home.
"For Cody and I, the first taste of the tournament was on this court and we lost," he said. "To come out in this first round game and not lay an egg was a pride thing for me. We didn't want to drop one on our home court. To get a win like this is a huge confidence boost coming off the loss to Calvin and it's day two tomorrow."
Hope led 44-41 at halftime, but surged ahead 56-47 after back-to-back buckets by Blackledge.
"We came out and moved the ball really well," Hawkins said. "Everyone was touching it and getting good looks. Defensively we were everywhere and everyone was contributing. It was a collective effort."