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The Lakeland men's basketball team became the first team to win 20 games in the Lake Michigan Conference since the conference joined the NCAA in 1997, with a 66-63 victory over MSOE.
The 20 wins is a first for the Lakeland program since they won 21 games under first-year coach Brian Miller, now the head coach of MSOE, in 1994-95. Helping the Muskies get to 20 wins was a 13-1 conference season, in which they won the LMC title for the first time under head coach Gary Grzesk.
"(Winning 20 games) means a lot for the program," said senior Nick Howard. "It shows how hard we worked in the off-season and preseason getting ready for the season. Everyone knew their role on the team and we just took it game-by-game. We took pride in our defense first and that is what got us to 20 wins."
Lakeland relied on playing as a team and focusing on one game at a time on their way to their 20th win.
"It was just sticking to the team concept," said senior Germayne James. "Everyone focused on the team and played it game-by-game. If we did that we knew it would just play itself out. Nobody gets to ahead of themselves. There is no one guy that has to do too much. Everybody believes in each other and that has been the big part of our success."
"Really it is a tribute to our guys and the kids in our program," said Grzesk. "We have gotten better every day in practice and the guys bought into what we were trying to do."
With 4:42 remaining in the game senior Floyd Bayiha hit a layup to give MSOE a 55-51 lead. Lakeland would battle back and sophomore Kris Saiberlich would hit two key three's down the stretch to help build a 62-57 lead for the Muskies.
With the Muskies holding a 64-60 lead with 51 seconds remaining freshman Matt Morgan would hit a trey for MSOE to make it a one point game. Following two missed free throws by James MSOE had a chance to win the game but a missed layup with seven second remaining gave Lakeland a chance to seal it when Saiberlich got the rebound and was fouled. Saiberlich would make both free throws with one second left in the game to seal the 66-63 victory for the Muskies.
"It was a tough hard-fought game," said Grzesk. "Both teams played extremely well and it was competitive going right down to the wire. We were able to execute and make some baskets towards the end. A couple plays that stick out were Kris (Saiberlich's) two three's that were both contested shots. The breaks just went our way down the stretch.
"We haven't been in a close competitive game for awhile. Tournament time everything tightens up and games are a little closer and each possession means a little more. To win a game like this will hopefully help us down the line."
James shined in his final regular season home game as a Muskie scoring 12 points, dishing out four assists and grabbing two boards. Howard had a great game early scoring five points and pulling down three rebounds before being injured early in the second half.
"Tonight's game was big because we wanted to have that momentum going into the tournament in a couple of weeks," said Howard. "We wouldn't want to go into the tournament with a loss. Coach says every game is the most important game and we just took it game-by-game."
Saiberlich led Lakeland with 13 points on a night that saw him shoot 3-4 from behind the arc. Freshman Matt Rogers pulled down six boards, while junior Tyrone Coleman grabbed five.
Lakeland shot 46 percent from the field for the night, while holding MSOE to 44 percent.
The Muskies, 20-5 overall, will host Maranatha in the LMC quarterfinals on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7:00 p.m.