CLINTON — Just like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz," there is no place like home for the Ashford men's basketball team.
"We're just comfortable here," Anthony Woods said after the Saints completed a 7-for-7 home stand Tuesday night. "When people come here it's going to be tough for them."
Woods, a 6-foot-4 junior from Normal, Ill., had a lot to do with that Tuesday. He poured in 31 points in an 80-73 victory against Grand View for the 21st-ranked Saints, who improved to 22-7, 10-1 since the new year began. It was Woods' fourth game with 30 or more points this season, three of those in Kehl Arena where the Saints are 12-1.
"It was a pretty good feeling," Woods said. "Once I hit my first couple, I knew I was on. I put in a lot of work, and thanks to my teammates for screening and getting me open. This was for my team. I had to keep us in it."
Did he ever. As the rest of the Saints struggled early to get into an offensive flow, Woods prevented the Vikings from getting too far ahead. He scored 15 of Ashford's first 17 points, including his fifth 3-pointer that trimmed Grand View's lead to 22-17 with 8 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the first half.
"I saw my team wasn't hitting, and I had to pick us up; I had to put them on my back," Woods said.
"I thought we were really stagnant offensively," Ashford coach Oliver Drake said. "Anthony was awesome, and thank God, we needed all 15 of his points, anybody in the gym saw that.
"It was disappointing for us to not come out with a little more aggressiveness against the zone. We knew it was coming. We've seen it a lot because we're a hard team to guard. The most important thing is our guys battled back. They turned up their intensity and sense of urgency, and we got a lot more dialed in."
After carrying the Saints for most of the half, Woods started getting help in the final few minutes before intermission as Ashford began to attack the zone.
DeAndre Lowery stole the ball and scored seconds later to cut the gap to 22-19.
"We came out kind of lackadaisical, but we picked it up with our energy," Lowery, who finished with 13 points, said. "We picked our defense up, and that usually picks up our offense."
Lowery added a free throw with 4:34 left, then Damon Overton pulled the Saints even with a layup.
The rest of the half featured three more ties and six lead changes, the last when Lowery hit a jumper with 2 seconds left to send the Saints to the locker room ahead 31-30.
Ashford enjoyed the lead for all but 24 seconds after that.
Chase Mullen buried a 3-point basket from the right side on an inbounds play with 11:32 left in the second half for a 47-46 lead, but Lowery made sure it didn't last.
Damon Overton fired up a 3-pointer for Ashford that missed, but Josh Little grabbed the offensive rebound and spotted Lowery, who delivered a 15-footer from the right wing.
"It was important because we were kind of going back and forth, getting the momentum swinging, and it just kind of gave us a little momentum after that shot," Lowery said.
Next, it was Overton's turn to take over. He scored six of Ashford's next eight points, expanding the lead to 55-49
"It was important," he said. "The last time we played them (a 64-57 loss on Dec. 18) we couldn't get that rhythm on offense. We shot, I think, under 40 percent. Tonight we got clicking in the second half."
Woods had one more spurt left, too. He buried back-to-back 3-pointers, then added a pair of free throws with 2:41 left that pushed the lead to 11, 69-58.
"On one of the threes, Josh (Little) set the screen again and I was wide open," Woods said. "I think Damon gave me the pass. Like I said, thanks to my team they got me open."
After that, it was just a matter of running out the clock, which wasn't easy since Grand View kept fouling to try to get back in the game. The Vikings never got closer than five.
"It got frustrating because we weren't hitting free throws," Overton said of the final two minutes. "We normally don't shoot that bad. I think it was a lack of concentration at the line. It does get frustrating when we can't hit free throws and put it away."
They finally finished it off, though, spoiling the homecoming for former Prince of Peace standout Derek Witt, a junior for Grand View. He went scoreless, grabbed four rebounds and fouled out.
The homestand was just what the Saints were hoping for, though, as the season winds down.
"We've been telling the guys just stick with it," Drake said. "We thought if we could get to this point in the season where we had these seven home games in a row that we could really get things rolling because there's certainly a comfort level when you play at home. The most important thing is we handled it the right way. We got comfortable, but we still had an edge."
The Saints hit the road Saturday for their final regular-season game — at St. Ambrose — but then they return to Kehl Arena on Feb. 28 to host the Association of Independent Institutions tournament.
ASHFORD 80, GRAND VIEW 73
GRAND VIEW (14-11) — Terrell Scruggs 3-6 5-7 11, John Peters 4-7 4-4 12, Rodney Williams 5-15 4-5 15, Mitch Fondell 2-4 0-0 4, Kerry Green 5-11 4-4 16, Chase Mullen 2-8 3-3 8, Derek Witt 0-1 0-0 0, Tayler Bontrager 1-3 0-0 3, Alex Wlesch 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 24-58 20-23 73.
ASHFORD (22-7) — Thaddeus Perry 4-6 3-8 11, DeAndre Lowery 5-11 3-5 13, Josh Little 1-3 1-2 3, Damon Overton 4-18 10-15 18, Anthony Woods 9-13 6-7 31, Tevin Harris 1-4 1-2 4, Tim Huber 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 24-39 80.
Halftime — Ashford 31-30. 3-point goals — Grand View 5-18 (Green 2-4, Williams 1-3, Bontrager 1-3, Mullen 1-6, Scruggs 0-1, Fondell 0-1); Ashford 8-25 (Woods 7-10, Harris 1-4, Lowery 0-3, Overton 0-8). Total fouls — Grand View 25, Ashford 22. Fouled out — Witt. Technicals — Fondell, Woods. Rebounds — Grand View 39 (Scruggs 10); Ashford 37 (Little 10, Lowery 8). Assists — Grand View 9 (Fondell 5); Ashford 12 (Lowery 4). Steals — Grand View 3 (Scruggs, Peters, Williams); Ashford 8 (Lowery 4). Blocked shots — Grand View 4 (Welsch 3); Ashford 3 (Lowery, Woods, Harris). Turnovers — Grand View 15, Ashford 12.