16 Iowa Conference championships
PELLA — Victory or defeat bounced on the rim as the buzzer sounded Saturday.
The ball almost seemed to hesitate following a last-second tip by star Wartburg center Jordan Sathoff before it fell harmlessly away and the Central College men’s basketball team was able to exhale, taking a 64-63 Iowa Conference victory Saturday.
The win allowed the Dutch, who were picked to finish eighth in the preseason league coaches’ poll, to tie for fourth place, closing the regular season with a six-game winning streak.
Central (18-7 overall, 10-6 conference) opens play in the six-team conference tournament Tuesday, playing host to Luther College (16-8 overall, 10-6 conference) at 7 p.m. at P.H. Kuyper Gym. Coe won the league title with a 12-4 mark after defeating Luther 78-71 in overtime Saturday at Cedar Rapids. The Kohawks will receive a first-round tournament bye. Luther and Central each won on the other squad’s floor. The Norse defeated Central at Pella 67-61 Jan. 18 before the Dutch came away with a 77-74 double-overtime victory at Decorah last Saturday.
Wartburg (11-14 overall, 5-11 conference) wouldn’t go quietly Saturday. Central was up 30-25 at halftime but the game was tied 11 times and the Dutch were staring at a 63-62 deficit before forward Chris Lehmann (senior, Champaign, Ill.) knocked down a pair of free throws with 1:00 remaining. Central missed a shot that would have extended its lead with 17 seconds left, but Wartburg misfired on a pair of shots before Sathoff’s tip attempt ultimately came up empty.
The Dutch had to overcome some offensive struggles, shooting just 33.9 percent from the floor, including 25.0 percent from 3-point range. But they relied on defense once again, limiting Wartburg to 39.7-percent shooting. Central ranks in the top 20 in Division III in field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 39.0 percent for the year.
Coach Mike Boschee credited Wartburg for making the game a battle.
“It was a very tough, physical match-up,” he said. “Wartburg is very good defensively and always has been. They presented us with a lot of challenges. You hoped it wouldn’t come down to a shot at the end but it did. We barely made enough plays to get the win.”
Guard Nick Marinkovich (junior, Clarendon Hills, Ill., Hinsdale Central HS) came off the bench to top the Dutch charts with 16 points and nine rebounds. Forward Jack Bruns (senior, Story City, Roland-Story HS) added 12 points and six boards while forward Jacob Winkler had 10 points and nine rebounds.
“We got good performances from quite a few players,” Boschee said. “We’ve had guys step up every single game and make plays and today was no different. It seems like we have a different leading scorer each night. I really enjoy that about this team.”
It’s been a season of streaks for the Dutch, who reeled off 11 wins en route to a 12-1 start, then suffered six straight losses before rebounding with a six-game win streak they’ll carry into the league tourney.
“It’s so important for any team wanting to make a deep tournament push to be healthy and we’re probably as healthy as we’ve been all season,” Boschee said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence. The most important things are that we defend, rebound and share the basketball every time we step on the court. If we do that, we will have a good chance.”
First round – Tuesday, February 21
No. 5 Luther (10-6) at No. 4 Central (10-6), 7 p.m.
No. 6 Simpson (8-8) at No. 3 Dubuque (11-5), 8 p.m.
Semifinals – Thursday, February 23
Luther/Central winner at No. 1 Coe (12-4), 8 p.m.
Simpson/Dubuque winner at No. 2 Buena Vista (11-5), 7 p.m.
Championship – Saturday, February 25
Semifinal winners at highest remaining seed, TBA