PAINESVILLE, OHIO – Lake Erie College (5-5) went toe-to-toe with West Georgia University (13-1), ultimately falling a basket short, 58-56, in the Championship game of the Winter Park Rotary Tangerine Tournament hosted by Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.
The Wolves have won six straight games and are the second straight Storm opponent to be ranked in the "Also Receiving Votes" section of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) NCAA Division II poll. Lake Erie defeated host Rollins Thursday, 79-65, in the opening round game.
Lake Erie was led by sophomore center Rich Austin (Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius) for the third straight game with 12 points and nine rebounds. Also in double figures for the Storm was sophomore guard Nate Tait (South Euclid, Ohio/Brush/Alderson-Broaddus) with 10 points along with four rebounds. Austin and Tait were both named to the All-Tournament team.
Storm senior forward Matt Grendel (Independence, Ohio/Independence) opened the game up with a three-pointer as the lead changed hands seven times in the first eight minutes of the game. Lake Erie last led at 12-11 at the 12:35 mark after a fast break layup by redshirt freshman Jamil Dudley (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon). The Wolves proceeded to score seven straight points and opened up their biggest lead of the half at 24-17 at the 3:08 mark but Lake Erie scored six straight points to get within one after a layup from junior guard Alex Davis (Macedonia, Ohio/Nordonia). West Georgia scored the final five points of the half to take a 29-23 lead to the intermission.
Lake Erie fought back to tie the contest twice in the first seven minutes of the second half but could not regain the advantage. Four straight free throws from senior guard Brandon Smith (Bedford, Ohio/Bedford/Cuyahoga Community College) made the scored 38-38 at 13:46, but the Wolves went on to pull ahead, 48-40 with 8:45 to play.
The Storm still trailed by eight points, 56-48, with four minutes to play before going on their final run. The deficit was cut to a single point at 57-56, after a jumper from junior center Jordan Baker (Erie, Pa./McDowell) with 1:12 to play and after a stop, the Storm was unable to take the lead when sophomore guard Tom Parker's (Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius) three-point attempt was off the mark with 15 seconds to play. West Georgia's Gavin Field split a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining to put the Wolves up two, setting up one final chance for Lake Erie but Austin could not connect on a three-point attempt at the buzzer.
A 38-26 rebounding edge in favor of West Georgia, with 14 offensive boards, was a big key to the contest.
The Storm return to action Wednesday, January 4 as they host their final non-conference game of the season against Urbana University with a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.