Men’s basketball beats Falcons

Erik Buchinger

Coaches and players celebrate after the UW Oshkosh men's basketball team defeats River Falls in the WIAC Championship 66-63 on Feb. 28.
[/media-credit] Coaches and players celebrate after the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team defeats River Falls in the WIAC Championship 66-63 on Feb. 28.

For the first time in more than a decade, the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament by beating UW-River Falls 66-63 Sunday in the Kolf Sports Center. The Titans received the conference’s automatic bid, which puts them in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in program history. “It was a great atmosphere to play in,” senior Alex Olson said. “Having a WIAC Championship back in Kolf was not only exciting for us, but the city and everybody involved with the program.” Olson scored 15 points for the Titans on five of 11, shooting with five rebounds and four assists. He said Sunday was the best game he has played in since he transferred from South Dakota State University prior to the 2012-13 season. “It has to be No. 1,” Olson said. “To be able to do this at home in front of family, friends and alumni and to be able to celebrate that day at home, there’s nothing like it.” The Titans jumped out to an 8-1 advantage early in the first half, but River Falls climbed back into the game. Both teams went into the locker room tied at 32 after the first half. After making five of its first 11 three-point attempts, Oshkosh went cold from long range and missed 10 of its next 11. The Titans have the most three-pointers made in the WIAC, and sophomore Charlie Noone stepped up and knocked down a three-pointer to regain the lead for Oshkosh 46-45 with 10:43 left to play. “We’re not surprised because we’ve seen how much work [Noone] puts in,” head coach Pat Juckem said. “He’s earned the right to take and make those shots, and nobody is surprised because he’s invested the time. That’s why he’s clutch, and he’s confident.” Noone finished five of eight from three-point range for a game-high 19 points. “Sometimes, that’s just how it works in our offense,” Noone said. “Alex is always the focal point of teams’ scouting reports. People know where he is, and we’ve got a lot of good players on our team. Everyone can make big plays, and it just so happened that night I got a couple open looks, and they went down.” Oshkosh grabbed its largest lead of the game at 61-52 with 3:29 remaining after junior Taylor Jansen dove for a loose ball and found freshman Brett Wittchow for a layup. Three possessions later, Oshkosh led by five with less than a minute to play when Jansen saved another possession for the Titans with an offensive rebound. Even though Jansen did not score in the game and attempted just two field goals, Juckem said his hustle plays made a big difference. “Those two plays had a huge impact in the game,” Juckem said. “I’ve gone back, and I’ve seen those clips, and they’re awesome. It was just desire, heart and will, and in a one-possession game, we stole two extra possessions because of him. Those were some big-time plays.” Jansen said he is always thinking about what he can do to make an impact in each possession. “I’m trying to think on every possession, ‘What can I do to make this a special one,’” Jansen said. “I’m trying to make those winning plays that we always talk about.” Oshkosh was able to burn an extra 30 seconds on the game clock, but WIAC leading scorer Jon Christensen cut the Titans’ lead to 63-60 with 23 seconds left. Noone knocked down two free throws, but CJ Lewis made a three-pointer for River Falls with three seconds left to make it a 65-63 game. UWO junior Max Schebel split a pair of free throws, and the Falcons were unable to get a shot off on their final possession. “I’d have to put this game at the top,” Juckem said. “It was an awesome atmosphere. As a basketball player, you hope to have meaningful games in February and now into March.” Following the game, the Kolfpack student section stormed the court, and UWO players and coaches took turns cutting down the nets. “Playing in March, we’ve got even bigger games to come, and that’s crazy to think about,” Jansen said. “Winning on Sunday and cutting down the net for the first time – I’ll never forget it. It’s a moment in my life that is always going to stick with me.” Noone, who attended high school at Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh, said it means a lot to him to be on the first UWO men’s basketball team to make the NCAA tournament since the 2002-03 season. “It’s pretty crazy, and it’s an awesome feeling,” Noone said. “Growing up in Oshkosh my whole life, when I was a kid I didn’t really hear a whole lot about Oshkosh basketball very much after the early 2000s. I heard when they got the new coach [Juckem], then I met the new coach, and all of a sudden I’m here and playing basketball. It’s pretty nuts, but it’s just an awesome feeling.” In Juckem’s first season in 2012, Oshkosh finished in last place in the WIAC, but the Titans have improved steadily and were a win away from the NCAA Tournament last season, losing to UW-Whitewater in the conference title game. “A few times we’ve talked about what it’s like to be a part of Selection Monday when you’re gathered with your teammates waiting for the bracket to be revealed,” Juckem said. “I think it’s something the guys will never forget. It goes up there as one of college basketball’s great experiences.” The Titans watched the Selection Show together as a team on Monday and found out they will play in St. Paul on Friday night at 5:30 against No. 18 Elmhurst College, who has a 21-6 overall record entering tournament play. “This group is confident,” Juckem said. “We’re playing our best basketball and we believe we can do something special.” Olson, who was Juckem’s first recruit, said the team will not be intimidated heading into the NCAA Tournament. “We all knew we could do it, but the fact that it’s actually happening now is surreal in a way,” Olson said. “The hardest part is getting in, and now we can take a deep breath. I don’t think we’ll be wide-eyed. We’re a hungry team, and we know we can do some damage come Friday and Saturday and who knows after that? We’ll be ready to go on Friday, and we’re excited, that’s for sure.”