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Paul Marandet on his way to 26 points vs. Bethel (photo courtesy Spring Arbor University) 

By Mike Moore

Staff Writer

Spring Arbor — One point here and there, that’s what separated the Spring Arbor University men’s basketball team from an eighth straight victory and an oh-so-close Tuesday night at home against Bethel College.

The Cougars had their chances, but in the end, fell to the No. 11-ranked team by a 63-62 final.

Disappointing, to be sure, but just a bump in what has been an otherwise smooth road for SAU in the 2017-18 season.

“We’re having a lot of fun right now,” coach Ryan Cottingham said. “The guys work ethic and attitude and the way they’ve played together has been excellent.”

Prior to Tuesday’s loss to Bethel, SAU had won seven games in a row, now holds a 16-3 overall record and finds itself as the 16th-ranked team in the country.

“This is a real unselfish team,” said Cottingham, who’s in his 19th season with the program. “They share the ball. We have great chemistry.”

Speaking shortly before Tuesday’s loss, Cottingham was asked about the 16 wins in 18 games.

“If you’d offered me 16-2, I thought you’d be crazy,” he said with a laugh. “But you never know until you start battling.”

Paul Marandet has been the catalyst for the group.

The sophomore guard from Warsaw, Ind. is the two-time-defending Crossroads Player of the Week and is averaging 18.5 points per game.

He scored 26 in the loss to Bethel, marking his fourth game in a row with 20 points, or more.

“He’s a special player,” Cottingham said. “He is one of the top-three players in the league, and it starts there. He’s playing at a different level right now.”

That’s just part of the strong record and high ranking, Cottingham said,

“We have a great coaching staff,” he added. “I do my best to stay out of the way.”

There have been other factors, as well, including an offense pumping in more than 80 points per game and a defense giving up 68.5.

The Cougars are hitting nearly 43 percent of their 3-pointers, average 15.8 assists per game and more than five steals.

“We pride ourselves on being tenacious on the defensive end,” Cottingham said. “But you have to score too, and we’ve been very efficient on the offensive side of things.”

Now, the goal is taking a 16-3 start and turning it into a special season.

Keep in mind, last year’s team was 18-14.

“How you finish,” Cottingham said. “That’s what matters. We expect the top-four teams in our conference to be part of the national tournament. We’re right in the mix for that, and that’s something we want.”

SAU has games coming up on the road against Grace College Jan. 13, and then a huge test at the University of St. Francis (No. 2) Jan. 16 and a home date with Indiana Wesleyan University (No. 4) at home Jan. 20.

“We’re in a great position right now,” Cottingham said. “It’s about taking care of business and doing the things we know we can.”

Mike Moore is a play-by-play commentator and Sports Writer for JTV Sports.

He’s also a Realtor with Real Estate One, specializing with buyers and sellers throughout Michigan, from the Jackson area to metro Detroit. You can reach him at mmoore@realestateone.com or by calling (313) 770-6365 with any inquiries.

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