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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 23, 2019 10:50 pm

MIAA Tournament

Split decision: Trine women win; men lose

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

ANGOLA – The buzzer sounded and the strains of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" began blaring through the MTI Center. The Trine Thunder women's basketball team had just captured its second Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Tournament title in three years.

It took two overtimes, and three-time MIAA MVP Brandi Dawson missed the final two minutes after fouling out, but the Thunder avenged a loss in the 2018 tournament title game with a 70-65 win Saturday over Hope, Trine's 15th win in a row.

Senior guard Cassidy Williams hit the layup that put the Thunder (25-2) in front for good with 2:03 to go and finished with a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds in a whopping 49 minutes. She got to cut down the first piece of the net for her effort.

"It's a good feeling to hold up a trophy," Williams said. "Trophies mean accomplishments and more and more accomplishments for this program is just building this program each and every year. It brings girls in when they see us holding some hardware."

The top-seeded Thunder's men's team had a chance to make it a double championship for Trine and it led for much of its matchup with second-seeded Albion, but ultimately fell just short of the first conference tournament title in program history.  The men dropped a 76-73 decision despite 19 points for Langston Johnson and 17 points and nine rebounds for Ellis Cummings. 

The women's team had fallen to Hope in overtime in last season's conference title game and that memory was fresh when a deep Williams 3-pointer at the end of regulation rimmed around and out, sending Saturday's matchup to an extra session.

"Our mindset going into the first overtime, we talked about it in the huddle, like 'We're not losing this game,'" Williams said. "It was that kind of mentality, like attack mode. A preview of last year went through my head. ... I didn't want that to happen again."

The first overtime was a parade of missed free throws on both sides and Dawson fouled out in the second with Hope (23-4) ahead 65-64. Despite the absence of one of the best players in Division III, Trine survived, getting a driving layup plus a foul from Montana Martin with 17 seconds left to put the game away.

While the Trine women were probably going to the NCAA Tournament regardless of the outcome of their game, the Thunder men (19-8) likely had to win in order to continue their season. Coach Brooks Miller was pessimistic about his team's tournament chances, but sang the praises of the senior class that brought his team its first regular-season conference title since it joined the MIAA in 2004.

"This one stings," said Miller, choking up slightly. "These two guys sitting next to me here (Cummings and fellow senior Pete Smith), I've never been around guys more committed to being better players and better teammates. 

"These two young men are as special as anyone I've been around since I played little league."

The Thunder had already beaten Albion twice this season when the pair faced off Saturday and led 68-64 with 3:45 left when Cummings hit a pair of free throws. 

Down the stretch, Albion's Jamezell Davis took over. He'd been quiet to that point, scoring only three points, but scored eight down the stretch to push Albion (19-8) in front. 

On the game's final possession, the ball was supposed to go Smith for a tying 3, but a pass up the sideline was off and he had to shoot a one-handed prayer that missed everything.

"We were supposed to get it in and I was supposed to go up the side like I did," Smith said. "(Supposed to) get it to me. You saw what happened. It was just unfortunate."