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Huntington's upset bid vs. Spring Arbor falls short

LEAD: Freshman forward Caleb Middlesworth posted a game-high 19 points in Huntington’s 61–57 loss to No. 9 Spring Arbor on Saturday.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

The Huntington University men’s basketball team nearly pulled off an upset against No. 9 Spring Arbor on Saturday in Platt Arena, but the Foresters’ attempt came up short, as the Cougars claimed a 61–57 win.

The loss dropped the Foresters’ season record to 12–6, including a 2–4 record in their Crossroads League contests.

Though Huntington already entered the game as underdogs, their chances for a win took a hit when senior forward Tyler Arens exited the game just 2:47 into the first half with a lower-body injury. According to head coach Ty Platt, Arens is out indefinitely with his injury and will continue to work through his recovery process.

The Cougars got out to a quick start, establishing an 11–4 lead just over four minutes into the contest. However, the Foresters responded with a 10–0 run of their own to grab a 14–11 advantage midway through the first half. Huntington would later go on an 8–0 streak, extending their lead to 25–16 with five minutes remaining in the half.

The Foresters would eventually extend their lead to as large as 12 points, but the Cougars managed to close the gap to seven points by the end of the half, as Huntington carried a 35–28 advantage into the break.

“We defended really well (in the first half),” Platt said. “That led to easier baskets and a better feel on the offensive end for us.”

However, Spring Arbor came ready to play in the second half, starting the period on an 11–2 run to reclaim the lead at 39–37. The teams would exchange baskets throughout the next few minutes of action, but the Cougars would drain a pair of three-pointers midway through the half to extend their lead to five points.

The teams would again duel for baskets over the next few minutes, but the Foresters would scrap their way back to pull within three points before a 6–0 streak to take a 57–54 lead with 2:32 remaining.

Despite the push from Huntington, Spring Arbor would close out the game with a 7–0 run to earn a 61–57 victory.

“I thought it was a little bit of tough luck,” Platt said. “Losing Tyler early in the first half certainly wasn’t what we wanted to have happen and that’s a big blow to our team. … They hit about a 35-footer there with about two minutes to go that was big when we were up three (points). We got it down to like one second on the shot clock and they hit that. Most of the time, those things aren’t going to go in. We had some good looks in the last couple minutes, (but) it just didn’t fall. … The loss stung a lot because we felt like we were right there and probably should have won the game.”

Freshman forward Caleb Middlesworth paced all players in the game with 19 points. Middlesworth added a pair of rebounds and one assist to his game totals.

Junior guard Konner Platt finished with 16 points while grabbing five rebounds and handing out a trio of assists. Sophomore guard Zac Owens rounded out the scoring podium and double-digit production for Huntington with 12 points. Owens also hauled in four rebounds and dished out three assists to go along with one steal.

Senior guard Nick Macon and freshman forward Spencer Ballinger each posted three points for the Foresters. Macon snagged a game-best four steals to go along with a trio of assists, tying Owens and Konner Platt for the team lead, while Ballinger recorded four rebounds and one steal for Huntington.

Arens and sophomore forward Wyatt Hughes completed the scoring output for the Foresters, each scoring two points. Hughes also brought down three rebounds and blocked one shot in the loss.

The Cougars, meanwhile, enjoyed a well-rounded, though overall underwhelming, offensive showing from their starting lineup. Paul Marandet led Spring Arbor with 13 points to go along with seven rebounds, one steal, two blocks and a game-high nine assists.

Luke Barber, Brandon Durnell and Tom Hamilton all tied for second on the Cougars with 12 points apiece. Hamilton dished out a pair of assists, while Barber grabbed seven rebounds and one steal and Durnell posted a game-high 12 rebounds.

Jeff Beckman rounded out Spring Arbor’s starting lineup with eight points and recorded a game-high three blocks to go along with eight rebounds.

Spring Arbor’s 61 points scored was their lowest offensive output in a game this season.

“(Defense) has been an area that we certainly want to get better at,” Ty Platt said. “We’ve never really been known as a defensive team, but I think that we are improving there. … It’s all good to hold a team to 61 points, but obviously you (have) to score more than that yourself or it doesn’t really matter.”

Though the defeat was a disappointing outcome for the Foresters, Ty Platt feels the game can serve as a reinforcement for the team’s confidence in their ability to compete with top-level teams, an essential aspect of having success in a juggernaut Crossroads League.

The Foresters will return to the court on Jan. 8 when they head to Goshen, Indiana, for a Crossroads League battle with the Maple Leafs. Opening tip-off is set for 7 p.m.