ANGOLA — It was a long time coming for the Trine University men’s basketball program and a long time coming for its coach Brooks Miller.
The Thunder have broken into the upper tier of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and can be talked about in the same breath with the league’s historical mainstays in Hope and Calvin. Trine now has a championship in the MIAA to further back that up that claim.
The Thunder used their advantage inside in the second half to run away from Alma and defeat the Scots 85-52 Saturday afternoon at the MTI Center. Trine won a conference championship outright for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when the Thunder were an NAIA program.
“This means a lot. This is what I came here for, to win a championship,” Trine senior center Ellis Cummings said. “I want to continue this season.”
Miller will have Trine in the MIAA Tournament for the eighth time in as many seasons as coach later next week. He won first conference championship with the Thunder, just like the MIAA coaches said they would in the preseason.
“This is an administrative win that came down from our leadership from Dr. (Trine president Earl) Brooks to Rick James and the Board of Trustees,” Miller said. “What John Milliken (Trine assistant vice president of student engagement and success) does for our young people is outstanding. And obviously with the leadership from Coach (Trine athletic director Matt) Land. You can’t find a better place to work and succeed.
“This is a special group. They love each other. They play for each other and put the work in. But this team is so different in that this is not the end-all. We’ll enjoy this for three minutes and look to get a win on Friday.”
Trine was in a battle with the Scots in the first half. The Thunder shot 32 percent from the floor in the first half (12-37) compared to 41 percent for Alma (13-32). But Trine managed to lead 30-28 at the half.
Then the Thunder (18-7, 11-3 MIAA) made a concerted effort to get the ball inside against a young Alma interior to start the second half and that created separation.
Two straight baskets deep in the paint from Maurice Hunter, then Myles Copeland had two baskets in the pain, including an elbow jumper. Then senior Jared Dishop got in the act on senior day with an inside score. Dishop’s scored made it 40-32 Trine a little over three minutes into the second half.
Trine got inside at will with the occasional kick-out for threes while the avenue to the rim was not as open and free for Alma. The Thunder shot 60 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes (21-35) and the team and its home crowd were ready to celebrate.
“We have the ability to share the ball with each other,” Thunder senior guard Pete Smith said. “We have 20-plus assists game. We have really good players and this whole team can make plays.
“This is amazing. From top to bottom, we have a great group of guys.”
Trine was right on 20 assists with 33 made field goals.
Copeland led the Thunder with 20 points, seven assists and three assists. Langston Johnson had 19 points, including five three-pointers. Hunter had 14 points and four rebounds off the bench. Smith had 12 points (including three triples), five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“Maurice is a 60 percent field-goal shooter and was 2-for-9 in the first half and getting good looks,” Miller said. “We had to keep getting it inside. Alma has young guys who are going to be good. But we had to keep wearing them down.”
Freshman post player Brandon Rake had 13 points and 17 rebounds for Alma (5-20, 4-10).
Trine women 95,
In Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Thunder completed an undefeated regular season in the MIAA for the first time in program history against the last-place team in the league who ended the season winless.
Garrett’s Brandi Dawson led Trine (23-2, 16-0) with 15 points, three assists, two steals and a block. Thirteen of 14 Thunder players scored, including five in double figures.
Senior Shaely Duff had 12 points and five rebounds and freshman Rachel Stewart had 11 points for Trine. Cassidy Williams and Montana Martin each had 10 points, with Williams also collecting eight rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Georgie Andrews had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets (0-25, 0-16).
Trine will play in an MIAA Tournament semifinal game at the MTI Center Friday.