How sweet it is

For the first time since 2003, the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team will be moving on to the third round of the NCAA Division-III tournament.

Mike Johrendt and Neal Hogden

The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team took on the Wittenberg University Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament on Saturday, beating the Tigers, 68-60.

The Titans came into the game as underdogs, as Wittenberg was ranked third in the country in the final regular-season poll.

Out of the gate, UWO displayed their stingy defense, stealing the ball four times in the first four minutes and holding Wittenberg to just one of three shooting in that span.

Sophomore forward Adam Fravert started out scorching hot as he nailed his first four shots from the field and had a game-high 10 points at the nine-minute mark.

With 8:33 to go in the first half, the Titans had a commanding 15-point lead with the score being 25-10. Offensively, Oshkosh was putting on a clinic as they shot 40 percent from three-point range and 52 percent from the field.

By halftime, the score was 34-19 with the Titans holding the advantage.

As expected, the Tigers came out of the gates with a sense of urgency in the second half as they put together a 10-3 run in the first five minutes of the second half. This got the crowd into it, which led to a few miscues for UWO.

Boots knew that the team’s 15-point lead wouldn’t hold up and that the Titans would have a battle on their hands as the game went into its late stages.

“We knew they were going to make a run,” Boots said. “It was just about weathering the storm and making our own run.”

Sophomore forward Jack Flynn had three quick fouls in the beginning of the second half, which forced head coach Pat Juckem’s hand into sitting the first-team all-WIAC selection early in the half.

Junior guard Brett Wittchow served as the crowd-quieter as he nailed two three-pointers to shut down Wittenberg runs.

Poor shooting by the Titans allowed Wittenberg to crawl back into the game, as Oshkosh was only shooting 35 percent with eight minutes left in the game.

With 6:07 left, the Tigers had come all the way back and tied the game at 49 apiece. Wittenberg took their first lead of the game with 4:23 on a layup by Jordan Pumroy.

After Flynn reentered the game, he was fouled and made two clutch free throws to put the Titans up two with three minutes left in the game. With the game tied at 56, junior Ben Boots and senior Charlie Noone hit three pointers to put UWO up by four.

After trading baskets, Wittenberg had no choice but to start fouling with 35 seconds left to go. Boots then hit six straight free throws to seal the victory for the Titans. Oshkosh ended the game on a 17-7 run over the final four minutes to put the game away.

Coming into the game, the team had minimal knowledge of how the Tigers would play. But, Juckem said the team played against a comparable opponent during the season, helping with preparation for the game.

“We have a team in our league that plays similarly and that’s River Falls,” Juckem said. I think it gave our guys confidence and an approach that we had sort of a blueprint; not that it was necessarily going to work or lead to a win but it helped for our guys to know where to focus.”

Senior Charlie Noone said even though he hit clutch shots down the stretch, it was still a big team effort.

“Any competitor wants the ball late,” Noone said. “Ben hit a huge shot tonight, [sophomore] Brian Willman had a couple of huge rebounds, Fravert had huge blocks, so just catching it and shooting it is what I do but we have a lot of different guys who do things late for us.”

The Titans will advance to play Emory to the third round for the first time since 2003.

In what could be considered one of the biggest wins for the program in recent history, Juckem had nothing but praise for his team.

“The mental toughness of these guys, Ben and Charlie in particular never got rattled, and responded,” Juckem said. “You pray that your young men get a chance to experience true March madness.”