Boots helps Titans make history

A career-high 36 points from UWO junior Ben Boots propels the Titans into their first-ever Final Four.

December 2: UW Oshkosh 95, Augustana 89, 2 OT.

March 10: UWO 95, Augustana 88, OT.

While the scores did differ, albeit by one point, the outcomes did not, as the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team earned its first-ever berth into the NCAA Division III Final Four by defeating Augustana College on Saturday.

After defeating Emory University in the sectional semifinal round yesterday, the Titans won an overtime battle against the host Vikings.

Junior guard Brett Wittchow hit two big three pointers in the first two possessions to quiet the rowdy home crowd and give the Titans a quick 6-0 lead.

Two quick fouls on Augustana’s Micah Martin forced the Vikings to play bench players early and often on UWO’s big men which led to multiple opportunities down low.

Even as the hostile crowd chanted and yelled at sophomore forward Jack Flynn, he still hit his first six free throws to put the Titans up by seven, with 14 minutes left to play in the first period.

The Vikings gained momentum as they got threes from Lucas Simon and Nolan Ebel to bring the UWO lead down to one point.

After a back and forth couple of minutes, Augustana took their first lead of the game at 26-25 with 5:47 left in the first half.

Senior guard Charlie Noone, fresh off of a career-high 32-point performance, started to get hot as he hit two three pointers to put the Titans up one with 1:50 to play.

In the final two possessions of the half, junior guard Ben Boots hit a three as the shot clock expired. Augustana ran the ball down the court and hit a running-three point shot as the game clock expired on the first half to tie the score at 39.

In the first half, the Titans shot 88 percent from the free-throw line, going 14 of 16.

Coming out of the half, Augustana went on an 8-1 run over the first two and a half minutes, using momentum from the capacity crowd to their advantage.

With 12:26 left to play, UWO senior guard Charlie Noone was bumped on a shot attempt but no foul was called. Seconds later, Noone was called for bumping an Augustana player and didn’t like the call. He picked up a technical for arguing the call, which was his fifth foul, regulating him to the bench for the rest of the contest.

Noone knew that even in his absence, the team would show up and play well enough to earn the victory.

“That’s just the epitome of what it means for us to be Titans,” Noone said. “We don’t rely on one or two guys or even three or four. We can rely on all 15 or 18 of us. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind we’d come through.”

The Titans stayed in the game as Boots drilled two threes and UWO forced the Vikings into tough offensive possessions.

Boots said when Noone went out, he knew he had to stay calm and take the reins.

“I tried to not get too far ahead of myself and take it possession by possession,” Boots said. “The overall goal was for that to not be Charlie’s last moment as a Titan. I told him when he left, ‘We’re going to figure this out. That’s not the way you’re going out.’ That was always in the back of my mind.”

Stepping in for Noone was junior guard Kyle Beyak and freshman guard Sam Ebersold. Both played good minutes as Beyak grabbed a couple loose balls and Ebersold hit a three pointer to give the Titans a one-point lead at the seven-minute mark.

Ebel would not be denied in the middle parts of the second half as he scored 12 straight Augustana points during a seven-minute stretch.

Fouls were affecting the game more and more as time went on as Augustana’s two post players and Noone were on the bench with five fouls.

Head coach Pat Juckem cuts the nets in the Augustana gym, celebrating the Titans' first-ever berth in the Final Four.
Mike Johrendt| The Advance-Titan
Head coach Pat Juckem cuts the nets in the Augustana gym, celebrating the Titans’ first-ever berth in the Final Four.

As Augustana was ready to pull away, up by six, Boots hit two threes to tie the game at 72 with 1:45 left in the game.

With 44 seconds left, Boots hit yet another three to put the Titans up by one. On the ensuing Augustana possession, an offensive foul was called on the Vikings, giving UWO the ball with 30 seconds left and the shot clock turned off. The Vikings fouled and Beyak made one of his two free throws to put the Titans up by two with 25 seconds left.

With 18 seconds left, the Titans needed a stop to put the game away. Augustana guard Chrishawn Orange hit a runner to tie the game at 76 and send the game into overtime.

Oshkosh began the extra period on fire as they sank four straight buckets, three from Boots alone, to take a two-point lead with 2:25 left in overtime.

As they double-teamed Boots, the Titans had no other choice but to get the ball to someone else to do the scoring. Wittchow took the reins as he hit two free throws, then a huge three-point shot to put the Titans up five and cause Augustana to have to foul again.

In a last-ditch attempt at a comeback, Ebel drove to the basket where he was emphatically denied by Fravert to ice the game.

Boots led the team in scoring with a career-high 36 points while Wittchow finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. The Titans shot 49 percent from three-point range.  

Head coach Pat Juckem had no doubt that his team would be able to handle the rough atmosphere that the over-2,200 fans provided for Oshkosh.

“They relish that atmosphere,” Juckem said. “This is as good as it gets. This is how it should be. This is how Elite 8, with two really good teams, battling in overtime should be. This atmosphere brings out the best in them. This was another one of those experiences that, when we’re all old, we’re going to talk about.”

Senior guard Jake Laihinen reflected on how he felt about the journey this team has been on.

“It an amazing feeling,” Laihinen said. “For me and Charlie, it’s just been a long career, a long ride. It’s a dream come true to go to the Final Four. I couldn’t be happier for me and Charlie, for the rest of our team, for the alumni and for the coaches. Just couldn’t be happier.”

Looking ahead to next weekend, the Titans will play Ramapo in the Final Four in Salem, Virginia on March 16.