The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Division III Final Four after taking down a pair of opponents at Kolf Sports Center over the weekend.
In the Elite Eight round, UWO defeated a feisty Guilford College team in thrilling fashion by a score of 82-79 Saturday night.
Last-second shot attempts by Guilford’s Kyler Gregory and Jaylen Gore were off-the-mark as UWO held on to defeat the Quakers in the final seconds of regulation.
UWO was led by junior forward Adam Fravert with 26 points on only 11 shots. Fravert hit six of his seven attempts from beyond-the-arc and added nine rebounds and three assists.
Fravert said he is just one of many guys who can shoulder the scoring load on any given night for this team.
“I guess I just had the hot hand tonight,” Fravert said. “Last night, it was [Connor] Duax. He went off. Someone else has had a really good game every game in this tournament. We just keep finding the person who has the hot hand and just keep going to them.”
Senior Ben Boots had a tough night shooting the ball but was able to help the team out in different ways. Boots had seven assists and six rebounds in 38 minutes for the Titans.
Head coach Matt Lewis said his senior leader is able to impact the game regardless of if his shot is falling or not.
“Ben is a winner,” Lewis said. “I don’t know if there’s a better way to describe him. He wins and he competes at an extremely high level. His ability to just continue to add value, even on a night like that — he just makes winning plays for us.”
Junior center Jack Flynn was the only player to record a double-double on the night as he scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds for UWO.
Flynn had the tough task of guarding Gregory who took 26 shots as Guilford made a concerted effort to get the ball down low. Gregory scored 31 points but was held to only 46 percent shooting from the field.
Flynn said Gregory was a good player, but he knew to win the game, he would have to make things tough on the Guilford junior.
“He was a fantastic player,” Flynn said. “He’s a hard guy to defend. He finishes well around the rim and has that mid-range game so it’s just really hard to defend. You’ve got to respect the guy for how good he is.”
Freshman Eric Peterson scored 10 points off the bench, senior Brett Wittchow added 10 points and sophomore Connor Duax had 11 for the Titans.
The win was extra sweet for the Titans as many friends and family were able to go onto the floor after the game and celebrate with the team. Flynn said hosting the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds of the tournament was incredible.
“For me personally, it’s a really special experience,” Flynn said. “Last year, it was at Augustana but being at home where we have so many great fans that were there to support us and having all of our family and friends was just a really special thing for us.”
Fravert said it was exciting to play in front of so many of the team’s friends and family.
“It was awesome to have that many people there,” Fravert said. “We’ve had some good crowds this season, but it was nothing like that. It was pretty cool because most of us knew people there, and we had a lot of family there, so it was really special to be able to celebrate with them.”
Lewis said he loves this team and has faith in his guys to play to the best of their ability night in and night out.
“We figured some things out late in the season and now we’ve made another really good push here to get ourselves to Fort Wayne,” Lewis said. “I have confidence in our guys. We’re a really good basketball team. I love the way these guys play with each other and share the ball.”
To make it to the Elite Eight the Titans defeated Loras College (Iowa) by a final score of 86-75 on Friday night. With the win, UWO set a school record for wins in a season; they now own a 27-3 record for the year.
Duax wasn’t a starter on the opening day of the season, but he came through against the Duhawks with one of the biggest games of his career. The forward poured in 26 points, six rebounds, two assists, one block and a steal.
The Duhawks closed to within four points after halftime when Duax took matters into his own hands. Duax rattled off 12 straight UWO points and extended the Titan lead back to 12 with 16:32 remaining in the game.
Duax said even though he had a big game, he made sure to not overthink the look the defense gave him.
“I wasn’t really thinking about much after I scored,” Duax said. “I was just doing what the defense gave me, basically. I was trying to get my teammates the ball whenever I could, but if they gave me the open drive or shot, then I would go [in] with confidence.”
Kolf Sports Center was home to the biggest crowd since the 2004-05 season on Friday night as 1,913 spectators made for a ruckus atmosphere.
Duax said playing a home game in the tournament puts the team inside their comfort zone.
“We definitely feel confident on our home court,” Duax said. “One of our sayings is ‘we always want to protect our house,’ so going into the game that’s what we focused on.”
Boots said this was one of the largest crowds he can remember but wants it to be even larger for tomorrow night’s game.
“It was a really great thing for us,” Boots said. “Towards the end of the game, we were just able to look around and really appreciate it. I see 1,913 on the attendance here and that’s like 700 more than we’ve ever had in this gym since I’ve been here. Let’s get to 2,500 tomorrow.”
In the first half, UWO committed 12 fouls and five Titans picked up two fouls before halftime.
Lewis said the team wasn’t playing disciplined and he knows they have to change that in order to go even farther in the tournament.
“We pride ourselves on being really disciplined,” Lewis said. “We did some things that were uncharacteristic for us. Last weekend, we had single-digit fouls both games and then this game we obviously got in some foul trouble. We’ve gotta be more disciplined, especially in the lane when guys are trying to finish.”
The foul trouble forced Lewis’ hand into playing bench players who haven’t played a lot this season.
Sophomore Tommy Borta only played in 11 games this year but was forced into the action when Flynn and Fravert picked up their second fouls in the first half. Borta came into the game and scored five points and tracked down some loose balls to save extra possessions for the Titans.
Peterson also had an impact on the game as the guard scored five points and locked down Loras’ leading scorer Ryan DiCanio. Peterson limited DiCanio to 6-16 shooting in 38 minutes played.
Juniors David Vlotho, Jake Zeitler and Brian Wilman as well as senior Alex Van Dyke were among the players who came in and played well for Lewis, who had nothing but praise for his bench.
“Our bench was electric tonight,” Lewis said. “We had a couple guys that hadn’t played in several games and they were ready to go when their number was called and that was great to see.”
Down the stretch, Boots and Fravert took over as the duo recorded 23 points in the second half to lead Oshkosh to victory.
Lewis credited his whole team with the victory and said they were ready for the physicality that Loras brought to the table.
“It was an incredible team effort,” Lewis said. “It was obviously a physical battle. Our guys were ready to go physically and mentally and I loved the passion they played with. I think it was another really good example of who we are. I’m fired up we get to play another game with [these guys].”
The Titans will travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana to take on Wheaton College in the team’s Final Four matchup of the NCAA D-III tournament.
UWO lost to Wheaton College in the second game of the team’s regular season by a final score of 86-74. The game was played at Wheaton College and Thunder standout Aston Francis dropped 45 points on the Titans.
In Wheaton’s Elite Eight matchup, the Thunder defeated Marietta College by a score of 91-87. Francis scored 62 points in the game, setting a school record for Wheaton College.
After Francis put on a stellar scoring display in Wheaton’s Elite Eight game, Lewis said he wasn’t going to worry about how he plans to defend him until later.
“We’re going to enjoy this one, go to sleep and I’m probably going to go to brunch tomorrow,” Lewis said.