11 NCAA Div. III national team championships
ST. LOUIS, MO.—Shot after shot they absorbed, run after deflating run.
But after staring at double-digit deficits in the second half and after trailing by nine with only 48 seconds remaining, there the Dutch of Central College were, still standing and down just 84-81. And suddenly all-everything point guard Miguel Ley (senior, San Antonio, Texas, Judson HS) was eyeing a tie game as he stepped back to launch a 3-point goal with only eight seconds remaining.
“It felt good,” Ley said. “I thought it was down.”
It wasn’t. The ball bounced off the rim and one of the winningest men’s basketball seasons in Central history was soon over as Illinois Wesleyan advanced in NCAA Division III tournament play with an 86-81 victory at Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) University Fieldhouse Friday. The Titans (21-7) play the winner of Friday’s nightcap between Washington-St. Louis and Westminster (Mo.).
“We had a call on for Miguel to create something or dish it off,” coach Mike Boschee said. “He cleared some space and had a good look.”
Even after Ley’s miss, the Dutch (23-5) had another chance. Illinois Wesleyan’s John Koschnitzky misfired on two free throws with five seconds left. But as Ley sprinted up the floor he ran into heavy pressure at halfcourt. Eyeing the clock, he said later, Ley tried a spin move but lost control of the ball out of bounds. Illinois Wesleyan’s Sean Johnson hit two free throws with two seconds left to finally settle the issue.
“When he missed those free throws, it almost felt like it was fate,” Boschee said. “But we couldn’t get another basket.”
Johnson was instrumental in the game’s outcome, drilling six 3-point goals and finishing with 24 points, including 14 in the first half as the Titans shot their way to a 45-36 lead. It was the most points Central had yielded in the first half all season. Illinois Wesleyan also hurt Central on the offensive glass, outrebounding the Dutch 41-38 for the night and getting 16 offensive boards.
“I thought we got off to a good start but I just didn’t feel like we played well in the middle stretch of the first half,” Boschee said. “We were uncharacteristic in our shot attempts, we didn’t pass the ball well. We didn’t do the things we normally did during the year.”
But Central’s gritty bunch kept coming back. All-Iowa Conference forward Loren Liming (senior, Ames, Gilbert HS) finished with a game-high 25 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots despite missing a good chunk of the first half with foul trouble. Ley had 18 points, three steals and seven assists, giving him 23 assists in the final three games of his memorable career. Forward Mark Holan (senior, Fontanelle, Nodaway Valley HS) recovered from a rocky start and put up 13 points, five rebounds and two steals.
But Boschee also singled out two of his key defensive stoppers, center Zach Cooper (senior, Johnston) and guard Justin Madsen (Fort Dodge, St. Edmond HS). Cooper hauled down a team-high 12 rebounds with three assists and three more blocks. The Dutch had eight blocked shots overall.
“Zach was great in the post,” Boschee said. “He plays great defense and works so hard. He takes pride in shutting down the opponent’s post. And Justin is the same way. They didn’t get all-conference recognition but they are what Central basketball is all about. They play with a lot of heart and a lot of toughness and don’t care who gets the credit.”
Ley turns in his red Dutch jersey as the second-leading scorer in Central history with 1,563 points. He tied the school season assists record (141) set in 2005-06 by Brett De Hoogh, who made the trek to St. Louis Friday to follow his former teammates. Ley was also second in career assists (326).
“I’d trade it all for another win,” Ley said.
Cooper finished second in career blocks (110) while Liming was third in season blocks (44). Holan broke the school mark for season steals (66) and closed in sixth in career steals (112).
Boschee refused to let Friday’s disappointment cloud his view of a record-breaking season.
“Only one team in the end (of the tournament) is happy,” he said. “I’m just disappointed we couldn’t take it a little further. But I’m really happy with these players and extremely proud of them. I’m happy for Central College that we could bring home a championship and that we could set the school season wins record. It was a lot of fun.”
Boschee was also appreciative of the raucous Central crowd that made the 5-hour journey to the Gateway City.
“The fans were great,” he said. “Our support was outstanding.”
Central was making its first NCAA tourney appearance since 1995. Boschee doesn’t want to wait 15 years for the next one.
“With the growth these seniors made and the leadership they’ve shown, it would be hard not to learn from that,” he said. “We’ve got some quality young people still in the program who want to be champions as well. Hopefully they’ll do the work in the off-season to improve their skills and their bodies so that we can continue this tradition.”