Special to the Herald
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. —
Behind a career-high 27 points from sophomore guard DeAndre Lowery Jr., the Ashford men’s basketball team used a massive second-half run to post a 68-52 victory over Lawrence University on Wednesday night to win the championship of the JustAGame Winter Classic.
Lowery was 10-of-18 from the floor while another sophomore, Brandon Weston, scored 14 points, and Vesteinn Sveinsson chipped in eight. In addition, the trio aided a 26-7 second-half run that lasted just under 10 minutes by combining for 16 points during the stretch as the Saints improved to 11-4.
"I thought the second half may have been our sharpest half of the season from a concentrated effort standpoint," Saints coach Oliver Drake said. "All the credit goes to the guys; it was a total change from the first half to the second."
Ashford, which led 31-30 at the half, outscored Lawrence 37-22 during the second 20 minutes.
"We challenged our guys at halftime to not let them hang around," Drake said. "Our defense was solid and our shots started falling. We're a pretty tough team to play when we're shooting the ball like we know we can."
The Saints finished with a 26-of-58 (44.8 percent) shooting effort and outrebounded Lawrence on the offensive glass 10-3. Joshua Little led the Saints with eight rebounds, five of which were of the offensive variety. Turnovers plagued the Vikings as AU forced 23, which turned into 34 Ashford points.
Ashford's biggest lead of the first half came during the early portion of the contest. A Joseph Lightfoot III 3-point bucket pushed AU to an 11-7 lead with 13:53 showing on the clock. However from there, Lawrence pushed back and widened its advantage to five at the 4:30 mark of the frame.
The teams battled back-and-forth for the remainder of the period and in the end, a Joshua Little jumper at the horn gave the Saints a 31-30 lead headed into the halftime break.
Lowery scored 15 first-half points. The Vikings converted 54.5 percent (12-of-22) from the field and held AU to 42.4 percent (14-of-33) shooting while winning the rebounding battle 15-12.
Fortunately for the Saints, though, Wednesday's matchup was most definitely a tale of two halves.
"We needed this as we head into break," Drake said. "We're going to have our hands full during the next few games, and it'll be good for our young guys to see the level of competition that we're going to see. We'll take the time to reflect on what we need to do better, but it will be a very challenging stretch."
The Saints close the 2012 calendar year on Saturday, Dec. 29, with a 3 p.m. exhibition game at NCAA Division II opponent-St. Cloud State University. The Saints take another road trip to open 2013 when the team visits Daytona Beach, Fla. for the Bahama House/Best Western Aku Tiki Classic, starting with a Jan. 2 game against Embry-Riddle, the fourth-ranked team in NAIA Division II.