CLINTON — There was a warm feeling all around Kehl Arena on Wednesday night, and it wasn’t just because of the near-zero temperature outside.
Playing at home for the first time since Dec. 17, the Ashford men’s basketball team got a warm reception from a hearty crowd. The Saints felt they owed their fans an assist after pulling out a 71-69 victory against Wisconsin-Stout.
They didn’t know if they would have won in the same situation on the road, where they had played their past eight games.
“I’m not so sure you do,” Ashford coach Oliver Drake said. “I think the crowd definitely influences energy. It definitely creates an atmosphere where guys have a little extra pep in their step, so no doubt they made a great difference. It was mostly our women’s basketball team. They did a great job of supporting us, and we really appreciated that.”
Tevin Harris, whose back-to-back 3-pointers put the Saints ahead to stay, said: “There’s no way we win if we don’t have that crowd. It feels great to be home. It’s invaluable. Without our crowd, the game could have went the other way.”
But Damon Overton, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, including eight of Ashford’s final 10, wasn’t so sure.
“I think we would (have won),” he said, although he admitted that the fans “kept us in the game, and a couple of times when we were fatigued they pushed us through.
“It’s just toughness down the stretch. But, again, they did beat us at their place.”
Drake said the Saints (16-7) had come a long way since that 56-41 loss in Menomonie, Wis., on Nov. 30.
“They’re a team that beat us pretty good at their place. That was in November, and we’ve shown we’ve made some pretty serious strides to come up with a win,” he said.
“We’ve played 16 of 22 games on the road. I don’t think that probably anybody in the country has done that. We just finished an eight-game road trip. We played some pretty tough competition, and Stout is a really good team. They led the No. 1 team in the country, UW-Stevens Point, in (NCAA) Division III. — they were beating them to the last 30 seconds just a couple of weeks ago.”
Harris, a 6-foot-5 junior forward from Chicago, and Overton, a 6-0 sophomore guard from East Moline, Ill., came up big for the Saints in the rematch.
With the teams tied 45-45, Harris was left open on the left side and stuck in a 3-point basket with 9 minutes, 36 seconds left in regulation. After Alex Oman (Stout’s scoring leader with 23 points) made 1 of 2 free-throw attempts, DeAndre Lowery Jr. once again found Harris open in front of the Ashford bench, and Harris buried another trey to make it 51-46.
“Coach gives me the green light, so when I get open I shoot it,” said Harris, who scored 11 of his 18 points in the second half. “My teammates found me open, so I took the shot and hit it. When I see that first shot go down, it definitely gives me a lot more confidence to shoot it, and from the same area, it definitely gives me more confidence.”
Drake appreciated the contribution from Harris, who earlier in the half was on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass from Overton for a dunk.
“Tevin is just scratching the surface,” Drake said. “You see how athletic he is. He can finish way above the rim. He can do some things around the basket.
“The best thing about Tevin is he can step out and shoot it, too. A lot of guys can play around the basket but they can’t step out and shoot. They were hard showing on ball screens so we picked-and-popped them a little on the side ball screens, and Tevin had his hands and feet ready and hit some big shots for us.”
After Harris gave Ashford the lead, Overton made sure the Saints kept it.
He made a pair of free throws after the Blue Devils cut the gap to 51-50. He drove the lane twice for layups that turned two-point leads to four. And he made six free throws and one more basket over the final 1:53 to preserve the lead.
“(Drake) knows I’m a little crafty and can get down the lane and get to the line,” Overton said.
“D.O. was 14-of-15 from the free-throw line,” Drake said. “We think free throws are all toughness, and D.O. stepped up there in really crucial situations and consistently knocked down shots. He’s a pretty slippery guy to guard. He’s hard to guard and can get into gaps, and I thought he was phenomenal tonight.”
The Blue Devils (9-8) refused to go down easily, though, and still had a chance to force overtime before Oman’s late layup attempt wouldn’t fall and Harris grabbed the rebound after it was tipped around several times.
“That was huge for us,” said Harris, who also made two hustle plays in the second half, knocking the ball out of bounds off a Stout player. “If I don’t get that rebound we could lose the game. That’s what I was thinking. If I don’t grab it and keep them from tipping it, if I don’t grab it we could lose or go to overtime.”
The second half was quite a contrast from the first, which ended with the teams tied at 26. Stout shot 55.6 percent from the field (15-for-27) in the second half, while Ashford made 12 of 23 shots from the field (52.2 percent) after intermission.
“I think both teams settled in there a little bit in the second half,” Drake said. “Both teams are pretty good defensively ... so we thought it would be a little bit of a grinder.
“As the second half progressed, the teams kind of felt each other out. They exposed us in some areas and we exposed them in some areas, and I think the biggest thing was some people made shots that they weren’t making in the first half.”
With all but one of their remaining seven games at home, the Saints are looking forward to building off Wednesday’s win.
“We learned how to come together as a team,” Harris said of playing so many road games. “To finally come home and play in front of these people, it’s a totally different environment.”
ASHFORD 71, WISCONSIN-STOUT 69
UW-STOUT (9-8) — Alex Oman 8-15 5-6 23, Jay Higgins 2-5 2-3 6, Aaron Jenny 4-7 3-3 11, Hank Kujak 0-0 2-2 2, Jimmy Whitehead 7-10 6-7 21, Phil Freeman 0-0 2-2 2, AJ Dubek 0-0 0-0 0, Brett Ahsenmacher 0-1 0-0 0, Jacob Nordstrom 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Kosloske 2-4 0-0 4, Adam Wadzinski 0-2 0-0 0, Debonair Townsend 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 20-23 69.
ASHFORD (16-7) — Tim Huber 0-2 3-4 3. DeAndre Lowery 4-9 2-2 12, Josh Little 0-1 0-0 0, Damon Overton 5-14 14-15 24, Anthony Woods 4-7 0-0 11, Thaddeus Perry 0-3 3-4 3, Jordan Flowers 0-0 0-0 0, Tevin Harris 6-9 2-3 18, Nick Wood 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 24-28 71.
Halftime — Tied 26-26. 3-point goals — UW-Stout 3-10 (Oman 2-5, Whitehead 1-2, Wadzinski 0-2, Kosloske 0-1); Ashford 9-19 (Harris 4-6, Woods 3-5, Lowery 2-4, Overton 0-4). Total fouls — UW-Stout 22, Ashford 21. Fouled out — Huber, Woods. Rebounds — UW-Stout 31 (Higgins 10); Ashford 21 (Overton 4, Harris 4). Assists — UW-Stout 11 (Oman 3, Jenny 3); Ashford 14 (Lowery 7). Blocked shots — UW-Stout 1 (Townsend); Ashford 2 (Huber, Woods). Steals — UW-Stout 4 (four with 1); Ashford 5 (Overton 2). Turnovers — UW-Stout 10, Ashford 7.