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The Lakeland Muskies improved to 4-1 in the Lake Michigan Conference with a 65-60 victory over the LMC preseason favorite Edgewood College Eagles.
"I'm glad we won," said head coach Gary Grzesk. "I give Edgewood a lot of credit. They only played seven guys and they battled really well. It was an important win in the conference race to stay near the top. We just need to keep getting better as a team."
Lakeland was led by sophomore Kris Saiberlich who had 13 points and went 3-4 from the free throw line including two with 26 seconds remaining to help seal the game.
"Free throws are all mental," said Saiberlich. "If you have a lot of confidence when you are at the free throw line, you are most likely going to make your shots. If you start thinking about the pressure and missing it, you will miss it."
The Muskies started the game off slow as they found themselves down 13-2 with 13:37 remaining in the first half. With the game tied at 19-19 a jump shot by senior Germayne James gave Lakeland a 21-19 lead with 4:37 left in the first half. The Muskies would not relinquish the lead again as they went into the half up 28-24.
"We struggled early," said Saiberlich. "I think a lot of it was shots weren't falling early. When shots aren't falling your defense has to be better, but tonight our shots weren't falling and our defense didn't pick up. We have to get to the point when our shots aren't falling we have to be at our best on defense."
After taking a 48-37 lead, the biggest of the night for Lakeland, the Eagles started to mount a comeback led by sophomore Ryan Johnsen and transfer student Chris DeMarco. Johnsen hit two threes to cut the lead to 63-60 with 12 seconds remaining in the game.
"Chris DeMarco just transferred in at Christmas and is a very good player," said Grzesk. "He did a lot of good things for them. Johnsen really played well and knocked down some really big shots, so give those guys a lot of credit."
Joining Saiberlich in double figures was freshman Matt Rogers with 12 and seniors Nick Howard and Germayne James with 11 each. Howard, James and junior Tyrone Coleman each had six rebounds for the Muskies.
"Offensively we had pretty good balance," said Grzesk. "Everyone chipped in and played their role. Nothing came easy for either team on either end so every point was important. We did enough things offensively and made enough free throws to get the win."
The Muskies shot 39% from the field, while grabbing 38 rebounds and forcing 13 turnovers. Edgewood, who only played seven players on the night, shot 38 percent while grabbing 39 boards. Lakeland's bench outscored the Eagles 27-5.
"The bench gave us a huge lift," said Grzesk. "They came in with a lot of energy and picked us up when we were flat."
The Muskies, 9-4 overall, will host the Illinois Institute of Technology on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4:15p.m.