UWO rides the wave into the second round

Mike Johrendt and Neal Hogden

The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team was victorious as it faced the Marietta College Pioneers in the first round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament on Friday. The Titans played in a tough atmosphere as the Pioneers’ fans only had to travel 131 miles to Oshkosh’s 492.

The Titans started slow out of the gate as they went down 7-0 in the opening minutes. As the team tried to reel the game back in, it got big threes from juniors Kyle Beyak and Ben Boots and sophomore Adam Fravert as UWO pulled to within four at the 13-minute mark.

The Pioneer’s Avery Williams was a tough cover for sophomore Jack Flynn, as Williams scored the game’s first six points.

The Titans weathered some good shooting from Marietta and displayed their own long-range game as they took a 22-21 lead going into the under-eight minute media timeout.

The Titans carried a 35-34 advantage into the half, and Fravert had a game-high nine rebounds in the first half. Coming out of the half, Charlie Noone drilled a three-point shot in the Titans first possession, which led to a 7-0 run by the Pioneers.

In a game of runs, the Titans countered with an 20-0 run of their own to take a 66-50 lead with 7:30 left in the contest. Six different players scored for the Titans over that span.

The Pioneers then ratcheted up the defensive intensity as a couple of steals led to a 17-2 Marietta run. Clinging to a three-point lead, Noone made a two-point jump shot coming off a screen to give the Titans a 70-67 lead with 36 seconds left to play.

After a steal, Boots hit two clutch free throws to seal the 74-67 win for Oshkosh.

The Titans were led by Fravert and Noone as both ended with 14 points. Boots and sophomore Jack Flynn were also in double digits with 13 points each. Fravert played a large part in the Titans’ 47-30 advantage on the glass as he recorded 15 boards.

Head coach Pat Juckem said the team prides itself on cleaning the glass, and this game was no different in that area.

It’s something that we take tremendous pride in,” Juckem said. “We’ve been in the top-10 in rebound differential in the country … and that’s something we take a lot of pride in. If you give a really good basketball team like Marietta multiple opportunities, you’re going to pay for it.”

Juckem said he was especially proud of Fravert, Boots and Noone for their hustle when going after missed shots, something that did not show up in the stat sheet.

“This you man to my left (Fravert) had 15 rebounds tonight,” Juckem said at the press conference. “I look at my two starting guards Ben and Charlie had seven and six rebounds. Those are impactful.”

Fravert has been facing tough competition in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which allowed him to be physical and go after rebounds in this game.

“All the guys that I have to guard in my conference outweigh me at least by 25 pounds,” Fravert said. “Bumping with them is a lot of work so I’ve just got to get used to it.”

Boots said the key to holding onto the lead as Marietta trimmed down the deficit was to remain playing basketball the way the team knew how.

“Down the stretch it was just finding a way to get enough stops and getting a bucket here or there to put us over the edge,” Boots said. “They kind of had us on our heels a little bit. I think a game like this shows the wars that you have gone through throughout the year and we just leaned on each other and said, ‘We’re going to find a way to get this done.’”

The Titans will face the host team, Wittenburg, on Saturday in the second round of the D-III NCAA men’s basketball tournament. This will be the first time the men’s team has made it past the first round since 2003.