FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – A dominating first half coupled with a stifling effort on the defense end keyed a Marian University men's basketball victory over arch-rival Lakeland College in a battle of the top-two teams in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, this evening, Jan. 16. The host Sabres used a 16-point halftime lead on the way to an 83-75 win over the Muskies.
Sophomore guard Alex Stecker registered a career-high 21 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown. Senior Cody Veleke added 16 points and seven rebounds, while senior Jeff Harris chipped in 13 points off the bench. Marian (11-4, 10-1 NACC) held the highest-scoring team in the league at bay, while containing the front-runner for NACC Player of the Year, Justin Ward, well below his league-leading season averages in points and rebounds en route to the win.
"This was a really big win for us," Head Coach Mark Boyle said. "We have really struggled with Lakeland in recent years and we jumped on them early with a first half that was one of the best halves of basketball we have played this year."
The Sabres put an end to an eight-game skid to their rivals, having not beaten Lakeland (11-4, 7-3 NACC) previously since 2010.
After the Muskies jumped out to a 16-13 lead at the 13:28 mark in the first half, the Sabres embarked on an 8-0 run fueled by back-to-back three's by Stecker and Harris to take the lead, one they would not relinquish.
Marian closed out the first half on a 19-6 run behind 12 points from Stecker and a 53.1 percent (17-for-32) effort from the field. Lakeland shot just 37 percent, while Ward – who entered the game leading the league with 21.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game – registered just six points and four rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
"Alex was tough," Boyle said. "He played great offensively and, it might go unnoticed, but he had a great game defensively as well.
"We knew with that big of a lead that Lakeland would be coming at us with a little more urgency on defense, so we had to be ready for that," Boyle said in how the team approached the second half.
The Muskies forced the Sabres into nine second-half turnovers, while holding them under 41 percent shooting. However, the Marian defensive unit stood tall to the task at the other end in keeping Lakeland's playmakers from impacting the game.
"Cody played excellent defense and our help side was key as well," Boyle said of containing Ward on the offensive end.
The senior forward finished a season-low 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting, adding eight rebounds and four blocks.
Offensively, the Sabres finished the game shooting 48.1 percent (26-of-54), while going 7-for-17 from downtown and 24-for-30 from the foul line.
The Muskies cut the deficit to as few as six points over the final two minutes, but free throws down the stretch sealed it for the Blue and White, while increasing their conference lead to two games in the standings.
Marian will eye a season sweep over Benedictine University in a match-up set for this Saturday, Jan. 18. The Sabres defeated the Eagles at home back on Jan. 4, by a score of 82-74. Saturday's tip-off in Lisle, Ill. is set for 5 p.m.
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NCAA Tournaments (2)