Titans take WIAC title

Jacob Link, Co-Sports Editor

UWO men's basketball
Jacob Link / Advance-Titan
The team poses by their WIAC championship banner. UWO won both regular and post-season WIAC titles for the first time since 2002.

The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team defeated UW-Platteville 75-73 on Saturday to claim the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Tournament title at the Kolf Sports Center behind Levi Borchert’s league-leading 14th double-double.

Borchert had 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks as the Titans, ranked third in the nation by d3hoops.com, grinded out the win against the fifth-ranked Pioneers.

“It’s awesome to win in the regular season last week, to win the tournament this week, those are two things our guys are going to remember for a long time,” Head Coach Matt Lewis said. “Last week we cut down nets by ourselves once we got home from Whitewater. Tonight, we got to do it with all our family and friends. It was a special night.”

Both Lewis and Borchert talked about the electricity of the crowd at Kolf.

 “It was an awesome atmosphere here tonight,” Lewis said. “Thursday night was really good against Whitewater, but tonight it got to a higher level. Platteville traveled very well, bringing their cheer and stunt team and the band. That was one of the more exciting environments I’ve seen inside of Kolf, which is a really cool thing.”

“It’s awesome, I mean to have this atmosphere after a pandemic year,” Borchert added. “Not really having any fans [last year] and then making it to the conference championship after we won the regular season title [this year] is awesome.”

UWP jumped out to an early 11-4 lead, but Oshkosh went on a 16-4 scoring run to take the lead with 8:33 to go in the first half. The run featured a combined 13 points between Borchert and guard Eddie Muench, who finished the game with 16 points for the Titans. UWO Increased the lead to 39-29 at the end of the first period.

At one point, Oshkosh led by 13 with under 10 minutes to play, but the Pioneers stormed back behind guard Quentin Shields’ 18 points in the second half. Platteville, the defending WIAC Tournament champions, pulled to 65-63 with 3:15 remaining. UWO could not seem to put the final dagger into the Pioneers, who kept the game close at 72-68 with 32 seconds to go. Borchert then fouled out of the game after the referees determined he had committed a flagrant offense.

“Our guys were just really, really tough and composed,” said Lewis. “There was a lot of odd things there. I thought the officials did a good job; there was just some weird things, situations, where we were trying to figure out what’s going on. I just thought the guys, no matter what occurred, stayed composed and found a way to get it done.”

Three seconds later, UWP cut the lead to two points after a Shields layup. After two Hunter Plamann free-throws put the Titans back up by two, Platteville responded once again. With 18 seconds to go, Shields dribbled down the court and nailed a three, making the score 74-73 UWO. Muench was fouled, but could only convert on one of his free-throws to make the lead two for Oshkosh with nine seconds to go. Shields grabbed the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the court, and threw up a shot at the buzzer that hit the side of the rim securing the title for UWO.

“We got the last stop; I mean it came down to that possession,” Lewis said. “We forced a tough shot and got a rebound, so I’m just really excited that our guys continued to fight until the end.”

 “We have a lot of good guys and we have been in a lot of close games this year,” Borchert said. “You don’t go through many blowout wins in the WIAC, so I think just having those close games under our belt helped us [win].”

Guard Eric Peterson added 15 points and three rebounds for Oshkosh, who shot 46.6% (27-58) from the field and 27.8% (5-18) from three. Plamann scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out a team best four assists in the game.

Borchert said that the Titans’ physicality and making the Pioneer feel uncomfortable was the biggest factor in the win.

“When we gave up [scoring] stretches, we felt that we weren’t making them feel uncomfortable [enough] and we were letting them dictate the game. When we were the ones dictating the game, we had that drive to beat [Platteville],” Borchert said.

On the other side, Shields finished the game with 21 points, two rebounds and three assists. Forward Kyle Tuma scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 15 boards for the Pioneers, who shot 44.4% (27-58) from the floor and 29.2% (7-24) from three-point land.

After the game, Lewis spoke about how the Pioneers were able to get back into the contest.

“They are a good team. They’re well coached and they have some veteran players. Tuma had a great game, I just think that they were not going to give up. They’re a team that wants to win just as much as we do, so credit to them for battling back.”

With the win Oshkosh clinched its fifth WIAC Tournament title, with the Titans winning their second in the past three seasons. UWO won both the regular and postseason crowns for only the second time in their history, the other coming in 2002. The Titans also secured the WIAC’s automatic bid in the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.

“The WIAC is probably the toughest conference in the country,” Borchert said. “There are a few really good leagues, and this is one of them, so winning it has been a must for us.”

To reach the championship game, UWO took care of UW-Whitewater 86-77 as Plamann, Borchert and Muench combined for 66 points in last Thursday’s win at the Kolf Sports Center.

Plamann led all players with a season high 26 points, and a career best eight assists. Borchert had his 13th double-double on the year, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Muench added 18 points for the Titans on 6-7 shooting.

Oshkosh took an early 10-9 lead over the Warhawks and never looked back. UWO went on to shoot 5-12 from three in the first period to build up a 42-33 lead by halftime. After the break, UWW brought the game to within one, but Oshkosh was able to increase their lead to 52-41 with 14:53 to go. Whitewater head coach Pat Miller received a technical foul for arguing with the officials with 3:45 to play and the Titan’s held a nine point lead. Miller continued to complain about the officiating, and even went to UWO Athletic Director Darryl Simms during the game to discuss the referees. Oshkosh led by at least six points in the final two minutes to close out the game with a 86-77 win.

The Titans shot 56% (28-50) from the floor, 46.7% (7-15) from deep and out rebounded UWW 32-24. UWO continued their domination of the paint, outscoring the Warhawks in that area 40-30.

Guard Derek Gray led the way for Whitewater, scoring 15 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and producing four assists. Gage Malensek added 14 points for UWW, who shot 47.4% (27-57) from the field and 38.1% (8-21) from three-point land.

The NCAA released the Division III tournament bracket on Monday which has UWO taking on Blackburn College (Ill.) in the first round. The Titans are the highest seed in their section of the bracket and will host three games this week. The Division III tournament does not seed teams with a number, but Oshkosh was the number one overall team in the NCAA DIII top 16 reveal. All games will be played at the Kolf Sports Center.

“I think it’s huge not having to get on the road,” Borchert said. “We would have still been the same team, but playing in front of our home fans and not having to travel is really big for us.”

Case Western Reserve University will take on the University of Dubuque at 4:45 p.m. on Friday. CWRU made the tournament as one of the 20 at-large bids and come into the contest with an 18-6 record. Graduate student Mitch Prendergast leads the Spartans with 17.6 points per game. CWRU finished second in the University Athletic Association behind Carnegie Mellon University.

Dubuque finished with a 21-6 record and qualified for the tournament by winning the American Rivers Conference tournament, defeating Buena Vista University 71-52. Senior Peter Ragen leads Dubuque, also known as the Spartans, by scoring 16.3 points and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game. Dubuque won the ARC regular season title and have won seven straight.

Blackburn College advanced to the DIII tournament after winning the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament by defeating Webster 76-56. The Beavers own a 11-17 record and have a three-game winning streak.  Blackburn was only 1-10 at the start of the new year but was able to finish the season winning 10 of their last 16 games. Senior Chanz Aldridge leads the Beavers by scoring 16.5 points per game.

UWO, who are technically defending champions due to the tournament being canceled in 2020 and 2021, will take on Blackburn at 7:15 p.m. Friday. The winners of the two first round matchups will play at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday for the chance at a sweet 16 appearance.