The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team took on the Emory Eagles of Atlanta, Georgia in Rock Island, Illinois on Friday, coming out with a 93-72 victory.
This Sweet-16 game had a playoff atmosphere as the stadium was rocking during player introductions and all throughout the game.
The Titans found themselves in a back-and-forth battle against an aggressive Emory defense as they headed into the game tied at eight seven minutes gone by. Emory pressed the inbound after a made basket, ensuring that it would be tough for UWO junior guard Ben Boots to bring the ball up.
As has been the case for the majority of the season, sophomore Adam Fravert got the game going offensively for the Titans as he had five quick points.
The Emory offense used good ball movement and three-point shooting to open up a three-point lead by the second media timeout. The Titans got three pointers by seniors Jake Laihinen and Charlie Noone to battle right back.
Emory junior guard Gebereal Baitey was aggressive early as he had six quick points on layups.
Emory played faster than most teams the Titans have seen all year as they tried to get out in transition and either get an easy layup or leave the ball for a trailing player to put up a three.
Boots pushed the agenda for the Titans as he had five quick transition points in consecutive possessions with seven minutes left to go in the half.
At the end of the first half, the Titans got a driving layup, a defensive stop, and a three pointer by Noone to open up a 40-29 lead at halftime.
The Titans played tough man-to-man defense and forced the Eagles to take shots late in the shot clock and turn the ball over four times in the first half.
The Titans displayed why they were the seventh-ranked rebounding team in the nation, as they only allowed Emory two second-chance points while holding a 24-16 advantage on the boards in the half.
The Titans got some good minutes from a couple of bench players as junior guard Kyle Beyak, sophomore forward Brian Wilman, and freshman Connor Duax in the first half as they logged 21 minutes combined in the period.
The Titans used the momentum (and some hot shooting) they gained at the end of the first half to maintain the lead for the first five minutes of the second half, going three-for-five from the field in that span.
Emory also ratcheted up the defensive pressure as they caused four Titan turnovers in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second period.
Noone could not miss in the second half as he had 17 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half. This helped the Titans open up a 25-point lead with 7:53 left to go in the game.
Emory was able to close the Titans lead down to 13 with just under three minutes left to play by playing physical defense and getting sharp shooting from senior guard Whitt Rapp.
The Titans displayed a steady attack for the rest of the game as Emory was never able to close the gap. After reaching the bonus, UWO just had to make free throws and beat the Emory press to close the game out.
Once again, it was Noone who hit a big, step-back jumper to put the game out of reach. UWO ran away with the game in convincing fashion.
Noone finished the game with a season-high 32 points and said this was just a night where his teammates got him the ball.
“You can pick every single game where a guy has gotten hot and tonight just happened to be my night,” Noone said. “I think that’s what makes teams dangerous this time of year; when teams have multiple guys who can go off.”
Head coach Pat Juckem credited his team’s preparation in practice this week for the clinic they put on against Emory.
“What we focused on all week was just our transition defense,” Juckem said. “Getting back and getting set; they bring the ball back at you so fast. We needed to make them play in the half court. They got us early a few times, and I think we made the adjustments.”
Juckem said that the depth of this Titan team has helped the team on this tournament run.
“We have multiple guys who are capable of that big night,” Juckem said. “We’re at our best when we’re spread. We’re getting big contributions from our bench. I look at Kyle Beyak with eight points tonight. [Sophomore] David Vlotho came in with two big loose ball wins. Our bench, not only are they holding the fort down, they’re coming and adding value.”
Wittchow said the team understands when the right times to have fun are, and that happened to occur when it needed it the most.
“It’s just really exciting,” Wittchow said. “We knew we were a really good team coming into the season. It’s been tested a lot. I don’t know if anyone was really expecting us to make it this far but I think everybody on our team knew that we had the capability to do so.”
Juckem is just enjoying the ride as his team moves on to the Elite Eight.
“We’re excited to move on,” Juckem said. “It’s March Madness, this is an awesome time and it’s good to be a part of it.”
The team will face the winner of the Augustana University and John Carroll University contest on March 10 with the winner earning a bid to the 2018 NCAA D-III Final Four.