Titans crash Finals party

Advancing to the team’s first Final Four in team history, UWO’s men’s basketball team looks to bring the trophy where it hasn’t been before.

The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team was locked in as it traveled to Rock Island, Illinois for the third and quarterfinal rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament.

The team scored its second – and fourth-highest amount of points this season while on the trip as they took down Emory University, 93-72, and Augustana College in overtime, 95-88.

Vs. Augustana

Junior guard Ben Boots led the team in scoring with a career-high 36 points while junior guard Brett Wittchow finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. The Titans shot 49 percent from 3-point range.

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.”

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.”

Before the quarterfinal game against Augustana had even started, there was a definitive playoff feel in the gym.

Fans packed the gym (2,256 strong) and the Augustana student section provided a loud and obnoxious scene for the visiting Titans. Wisconsin Badger star Ethan Happ even made an appearance as he joined the Augustana student section in cheering for the Vikings.

Head coach Pat Juckem had no doubt 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 [the] Elite Eight, 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.”

The game was affected by the style in which the contest was being called by the referees, as there were 56 combined personal fouls and four players fouled out between the two teams.

Sophomore forward Jack Flynn had a stellar game despite being matched up against a trio of players who had a height advantage against him. Flynn finished with 12 points, going eight of 10 from the free-throw line with eight rebounds, five of which were offensive boards.

In the final two possessions of the first half, Boots hit a contested three as the shot clock expired. Augustana guard Nolan Ebel 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.

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 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.

As the Vikings 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 force 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 added nine points in the extra period to propel the Titans to the Final Four.

Senior guard Charlie Noone and senior guard Jake Laihnen pose with the sectional championship trophy.
Mike Johrendt| The Advance-Titan
Senior guard Charlie Noone and senior guard Jake Laihnen pose with the sectional championship trophy.
Vs. Emory

Prior to matching up with Augustana, UWO had no easy task in Emory as the Eagles were ranked sixth in the final regular season poll by d3hoops.com. This was familiar territory for the Titans, as they defeated third-ranked Wittenberg the previous weekend on their home floor.

Noone finished the game with a season-high 32 points and said this was just a night where his teammates got him the ball.

Noone shot 12 times from behind the arc, making eight of those shots. The senior helped Oshkosh shoot 52 percent from three-point range.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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 the depth of this Titan team has helped 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.”

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

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Laihinen said. “For me and Charlie, it’s 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.”

The Titans are heading into the tournament as the only top-25-ranked team left in the tournament, as well as the only Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team to advance to the Final Four, after both UW-Platteville and UW-Stevens Point fell this past weekend.

Looking ahead to next weekend, the Titans will play Ramapo in the Final Four in Salem, VA at 4 p.m. CT, March 16.

Ramapo compiled a 25-6 record over the course of the season, defeating the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a pair of free throws with two seconds to play to advance to the Final Four.