Courtesy of Grand Valley St. Athletics

Mesa, Ariz. -- No. 8 Grand Valley State had its six-game winning streak snapped on Thursday afternoon (Dec. 30) in Mesa, Az., as the Lakers dropped a 73-69 contest to New Mexico Highlands. The teams were competing at the Trip Sports Grand Canyon Classic, but GVSU was defeated for just the second time this season despite a 42-26 edge in points in the paint and a double-double from senior forward Justin Ringler.

For the first time since Nov. 27 at Northern Kentucky, Grand Valley State found itself on the losing side of the scoreboard, as the Lakers fall to 9-2 on the season. GVSU had won its previous six games, which included three consecutive GLIAC road victories. New Mexico Highlands, a Division II program from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, improves to 9-1 on the year.

A pretty even game statistically appears to have been won at the charity stripe. While Grand Valley State did struggle at the line, making just 17-of-29 attempts for a 58.6 percentage, New Mexico Highlands connected on 30-of-41 freebies for a 73.2 percent clip. Otherwise, the Lakers won the rebounding battle (43-38), including a 16-9 edge in offensive boards, which led to a huge 19-3 advantage in second chance points. GVSU was stronger inside, owning a 16-point cushion (42-26) in points in the paint, but the Cowboys forced 16 Laker turnovers and held Grand Valley State to just 2-of-15 from three-point range.

Things looked very good from the opening tip-off for the Lakers, who raced out to an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes. Ringler scored on a jumper just 22 seconds into the contest, while sophomore point guard Breland Hogan added a layup a minute later. Three more scorers added shots, as juniors Nick Waddell and Alvin Storrs connected on buckets and James Thomas drained a three-pointer, assisted by Ringler, for the 11-0 advantage.

A trifecta from junior Wes Trammell gave GVSU its biggest lead of the day at 14-2 with 14:34 remaining, but the Cowboys started to come back and cut down the deficit. NMH pulled within five points at 16-11 and to 18-15 at the 6:33 mark before taking its first lead of the game at 23-22 with 4:18 left in the opening half. The score would be tied three times in the first half and a layup from sophomore Nick Carreri made the score 33-31 at halftime, with New Mexico Highlands owning the two-point cushion.

To start the second half, Hogan and Thomas scored on consecutive jumpers, giving the lead back to the Lakers at 35-33. A layup from Storrs and back-to-back buckets from Waddell upped the advantage to 41-34 just six minutes into the second stanza. However, the Cowboys continued the back-and-forth game by scoring nine straight points and taking a 43-41 lead at the 12:18 mark.

The score was tied for the eighth time in the game at 57-57 with 5:27 left in the game before New Mexico Highlands used an 8-1 run to open up a 65-58 lead with 3:40 remaining. A layup from Ringler and a split pair of free throws by Waddell brought the Lakers within four at 65-61, but GVSU would only get as close as two points the rest of the way. After getting within 67-65 after a jumper from Ringler, the Cowboys made 3-of-4 free throws to open up a five-point lead in the final minute, which would be enough to hold off Grand Valley State.

Both teams shot nearly identical from the field, as GVSU shot 41.7 percent to the Cowboys' 41.3 percentage. NMH led in fast break points (12-10) and bench points (25-24), while making five three-pointers to just two for the Lakers. Grand Valley State was 0-for-8 from beyond the arc in the second half, shooting just 13.3 percent from three-point range during the game.

Ringler notched GVSU's first double-double of the season, as he recorded 23 points and 10 rebounds. He shot 6-of-12 from the floor and made 11-of-15 free throws, while adding three assists and three steals in 35 very productive minutes. His 23 points tied his season-high. The only other Laker in double-digits was Storrs, as the guard secured 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and pulled down four rebounds.

Waddell provided eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, while Trammell supplied eight points and three boards in just 13 minutes, both coming off the GVSU bench. Thomas totaled seven points and four rebounds, while Carreri added five points, two boards, and an assist in 13 minutes.

Leading the way for New Mexico Highlands was Thomas Manzano, who totaled a game-high 25 points, while adding eight boards. Chris Newsome scored 14 points with five boards and five assists, while Mindaug Markevicius added 12 points.