Plantz making waves in freshman season at Lake Erie

J. Patrick Eaken

        Suddenly the Lake Erie College men’s basketball team has depth, and you can thank 6-foot-4 freshman Jacob Plantz (Genoa) for a big part of that.
        The team’s depth was demonstrated in Tiffin the Saturday afternoon of Feb. 8. Seven players scored in double figures to help NCAA Division II Lake Erie to a dominating 97-63 win over Tiffin. The win broke a five game skid on the road for the Storm (14-10 overall, 8-6 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) and was their fifth consecutive win against the Dragons (8-16, 2-12).
        The 3-point shot was beneficial for the Storm as they made 13-of-24, one shy of their season best from earlier this season at Edinboro. Lake Erie actually shot better behind the arc at 54.2 percent than they did overall with a 36-of-67 mark for 53.7 percent. The wealth was distributed equally as six players combined for all 13 bonus bombs.
        Plantz accounted for three of them to lead the team while the rest had two each. He finished 5-of-10 overall for 13 points. Senior Gabe Kynard (St. John's) led the team with 16 points and was also 5-of-10 from the field. He was also responsible for five more buckets with five of the team's 19 assists. Lake Erie's depth was also pivotal as its bench outscored the Dragons’ 42-15. 
        Plantz says playing alongside Kynard has been a blessing.
        “Gabe is probably the best basketball player I’ve ever been fortunate to play with,” Plantz said. “He’s really unreal. I mean, he does things, and I’m like, ‘Wow, did he just do that?’ Being his teammate, he’s helped me out so much and I think that is one of the biggest reasons why I’m having so much success is because of him helping me out, helping me to see things that I wouldn’t see on my own.”
        Early in the season, Plantz began games on the bench, but he does not anymore, starting for the Storm his freshman year. He has played in all 24 games, starting 17, and is averaging 9.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and is shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and 61.1 percent from the free throw line.
        “Early in the year, we were bringing him off the bench and he gave us some real big boosts off the bench,” said Lake Erie fourth-year coach Kyle Conley. “I liked him in that role but he continued to play really well and I think he earned the right to start more. He’s continued to practice and play the way we want. I think he’s definitely earned that opportunity.”
        For Plantz, it is a dream come true to be starting for the Storm.
        “My mentality going into my freshman year was do the dirty work — you know, go rebound, play defense, control the things you can control, and you know what, my shots starting coming along. So that has helped me offensively, but defensively my coaches are really helping me expand my game,” Plantz said.
        “I kept playing well and they kept playing me and then he told me I was going to start and I was like, ‘Oh, man, this has been my dream since I was a little kid to play at the college basketball level, so it’s really awesome.”
        Plantz was 8-for-12 from the field and scored 22 points in a 104-82 win over Tiffin on Jan. 18, was 8-for-10 and scored 21 in an 80-73 win over Malone, was 6-for-11 and scored 15 in an 84-79 win over Barry, was 5-for-8 and scored 15 in an 88-85 victory over Walsh, and 5-for-6 and scored 15 in a 71-62 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan.
        Plantz has reached double figures five other times, and the only reason his average is still below double figures is because of the limited playing time at the start of the season, plus he says it took a few games to get used to the speed of college basketball.
        “The biggest thing coming in for me was definitely the pace of the game. It’s way more faster, but guarding guys every day in practice who are super good is definitely going to help you out, so that’s good for me,” Plantz said.
        Last year as a senior at Genoa, Plantz was second team All-Ohio in Division III. Plantz led the Comets to a 24-1 season, including an unblemished 14-0 record in the Northern Buckeye Conference, and a No. 4 ranking in the final statewide Associated Press Division III poll.
        Plantz, who averaged 20.3 points, including 10.5 in the paint, earned Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Player of the Year honors for the third straight season. He also averaged 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.5 deflections and two steals per game and shot 47.5 percent from the field, 31.7 percent from behind the arc and 65.5 percent from the free throw line. He is Genoa’s all-time leading career scorer.
        For Conley, the process of recruiting Plantz began well before his senior year.
        “When we got to see Jake in the summer time at first a couple years ago, we saw a kid who was physically mature, who had a high motor, could make shots and just played with a level of toughness that we like to find in guys,” Conley said. “When we look for a guy like that on the wing we want someone who can play at both ends and he’s a really willing defender which has helped him a lot in his growth.”
        Conley ought to know — he has been at Lake Erie 11 years including a stint as an assistant, and since 2010, the Storm have improved their league win total in eight of the past 10 seasons. He is a University of Findlay alumnus who spent four seasons as an assistant at his alma mater. While there, he helped the Oilers to a four-year mark of 112-16, four NCAA Tournament appearances, three GLIAC South Division championships, and a pair of GLIAC Tournament championships. The 2005 Oilers team reached the Elite Eight and finished the season ranked first in the final NABC Coaches’ Poll.


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