2 down, 4 to go

UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team advances to the Sweet 16 in the D-III NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.

The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team took on Wittenberg University 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. The Wittenberg crowd, which had been quiet during the whole first half, got into the game, which led to a few mistakes for UWO.

Junior guard Ben Boots said he knew the team’s 15-point lead wouldn’t hold up and 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, Boots and senior Charlie Noone each 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.”

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 Wilman 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.

Ben Boots surveys the Marietta defense.
Mike Johrendt| The Advance-Titan
Ben Boots surveys the Marietta defense.

In order to face Wittenberg, UWO had to beat Marietta in the first round of the tournament on Friday night. The Titans played in a tough atmosphere as the Pioneers’ fans only had to travel 131 miles to Oshkosh’s 492.

The Titans started slow out of the gate as they went down 7-0 in the opening minutes. As the team tried to reel the game back in, it got big threes from junior Kyle Beyak, Boots and Fravert as UWO pulled to within four at the 13-minute mark.

The Pioneers’ Avery Williams was a tough cover for Flynn, as Williams scored the game’s first 6 points.

The Titans weathered some good shooting from Marietta and displayed their own long-range game as they took a 22-21 lead going into the under-eight minute media timeout.

The Titans carried a 35-34 advantage into the half, and Fravert had a game-high nine rebounds in the first half. Coming out of the half, Noone drilled a three-point shot in the Titans’ first possession, which led to a 7-0 run by the Pioneers.

In a game of runs, the Titans countered with a 20-0 run of their own to take a 66-50 lead with 7:30 left in the contest. Six different players scored for the Titans over that span.

The Pioneers then ratcheted up the defensive intensity as a couple of steals led to a 17-2 Marietta run. Clinging to a 3-point lead, Noone made a 2-point jump shot coming off a screen to give the Titans a 70-67 lead with 36 seconds left to play.

After a steal, Boots hit two clutch free throws to seal the 74-67 win for Oshkosh.

The Titans were led by Fravert and Noone as both ended with 14 points. Boots and Flynn were also in double digits with 13 points each. Fravert played a large part in the Titans’ 47-30 advantage on the glass as he recorded 15 boards.

Juckem said the team prides itself on cleaning the glass, and this game was no different in that area.

“It’s something that we take tremendous pride in,” Juckem said. “We’ve been in the top-10 in rebound differential in the country, … and that’s something we take a lot of pride in. If you give a really good basketball team like Marietta multiple opportunities, you’re going to pay for it.”

Juckem said he was especially proud of Fravert, Boots and Noone for their hustle when going after missed shots, something that did not show up in the stat sheet.

“This young man to my left [Fravert] had 15 rebounds tonight,” Juckem said at the press conference. “I look at my two starting guards Ben and Charlie had seven and six rebounds. Those are impactful.”

Fravert has been facing tough competition in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which allowed him to be physical and go after rebounds in this game.

“All the guys that I have to guard in my conference outweigh me at least by 25 pounds,” Fravert said. “Bumping with them is a lot of work so I’ve just got to get used to it.”

Boots said the key to holding onto the lead as Marietta trimmed down the deficit was to remain playing basketball the way the team knew how.

“Down the stretch, it was just finding a way to get enough stops and getting a bucket here or there to put us over the edge,” Boots said.

“They kind of had us on our heels a little bit. I think a game like this shows the wars that you have gone through throughout the year and we just leaned on each other and said, ‘We’re going to find a way to get this done.’”

Sweet Sixteen

The Titans will advance to play Emory third round for the first time since 2003. The Eagles hosted their first two games of the tournament, defeating both Berry College and LeTourneau University to advance to the third round. Emory is nationally ranked at sixth by d3hoops.com and averages 82.5 points per contest.

The Eagles have an experienced senior guard in Whit Rapp who is third in the nation in assists and will look to set up his teammates against Oshkosh on Friday.

A point where the Titans may look to exploit is the rebounding margin. The Titans hold a plus-8.7 rebound advantage while the Eagles only out-rebound their opponents by 1.5 boards.

UWO will travel to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois for their sweet-16 appearance. Augustana and John Carroll University will play to face the winner of the UWO and Emory game.

All-WIAC selections

Amid all the talk of the team’s achievements, there were also some individual accolades achieved by players on the men’s basketball team.

Boots and Flynn were both honored with first team all-WIAC selections, while Fravert earned an honorable mention selection.

This is Boots’ second-straight year earning a first team award, while both Flynn and Fravert achieved their first awards.

Boots garnered his award by leading the conference in assists (118) and assist to turnover ratio (2.23). Flynn lead the conference in field goal percentage (.638) and offensive rebounds (99) while placing third in rebounds and blocks with 193 and 17, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Noone was a co-recipient of the WIAC Men’s Basketball Max Sparger Scholar-Athlete Award. He is the fourth Titan to earn this award since it began in 1985.