PAINESVILLE, OHIO – Over 1,000 miles of travel was well worth it for Lake Erie College (5-4), as it picked up one of the biggest wins in the program's four-year history in NCAA Division II, 79-65, over host Rollins College (7-3) in an opening round game at the Winter Park Rotary Tangerine Tournament in Winter Park, Fla.
Rollins is currently receiving votes in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Poll and was ranked as high as 10th earlier in the season.
Lake Erie was led by a monster night from sophomore Rich Austin (Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius). The 6-6 center scored a career-high 24 points and added a game-high nine rebounds. Classmate guard Riley Thomas (Cardington, Ohio/Cardington-Lincoln) carried much of the load as well with a season-high 18 points and redshirt freshman Jamil Dudley (Massillon Ohio/Massillon) added 12 points off the bench with three steals. Sophomore Nate Tait (South Euclid, Ohio/Brush/Alderson-Broaddus) also made a strong all-around contribution off the bench with nine points, four rebounds and a team-high five assists.
The Storm was just 7-of-24 on three-point attempts -with Dudley and Thomas each accounting for a pair - but went a superb 20-of-32 on attempts inside the arc, shooting 48.2% (27-of-56) overall. The Tars were held to just 32.7% (16-of-49) from the field.
It was a tight first 20 minutes with neither team holding more than a six-point advantage. Their were eight lead changes and five ties though Lake Erie led most of the first 10 minutes and went ahead 18-14 after a three-pointer by Tait at the 10:08 mark. Rollins pushed forward to take two four-point advantages of its own and led 30-26 with 3:28 to go in the half. The game changed over that final 3:28 as Lake Erie went on a 10-0 with Austin and Dudley scoring five points apiece, before the Tars closed the half with a free throw to mark the score 36-31 Lake Erie at half.
Rollins closed within one on two occasions early in the second half but Lake Erie proceeded on a 15-2 run, capped by a foul shot from senior forward Matt Grendel (Independence, Ohio/Independence) to put the Green and White ahead 53-39 with 11:38 to play. The Storm held the Tars to just a lone basket over that key 7:30 stretch. Lake Erie's lead stretched to a game-high 17 points at 58-41 after a Tait fast break layup at the 9:30 mark. Rollins closed the gap to 60-50 with 5:44 to play but Lake Erie withstood the Tars' run and never let its lead diminish below nine points. The Storm iced the game by going 14-of-16 from the foul line over the final 2:23.
Lake Erie will take on another team receiving votes in the NABC poll tomorrow as it faces West Georgia University (12-1) in the Championship game at 7:00 p.m. You can follow along with live stats and video at the tournament website HERE.