2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
STEVENS POINT, WIS.—Extending its magical season by at least one more day, the Central College men’s basketball drilled 11 of its first 12 shots, then withstood a St. Olaf (Minn.) second-half assault to knock off the No. 25-rated Oles 85-72 and advance in NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament play.
The Dutch (21-7) advance to a second-round game Saturday at 7 p.m. against host and No. 1-ranked Wis.-Stevens Point. The Pointers (27-1) escaped Marian's (Wis.) upset bid 66-64 in Friday's second first-round game as a Sabres' 3-pointer ricocheted out at the buzzer.
Central’s second-round game will be broadcast on KNIA-FM (95.3) and AM 1320. The broadcast can also be accessed at www.kniakrls.com. Live video of Saturday's game will be available with live stats at athletics.uwsp.edu.
“We’ve been in that situation a lot this year,” coach Craig Douma said. “The Iowa Conference challenges us. We’ve had a double-digit lead before and it has been cut to (single digits). Every great team makes a run and St. Olaf is a great team. They pushed us hard, but we showed up down the stretch.”
Fueled by its torrid start, Central raced to a 45-28 halftime lead shooting a single-half season-best 65.4 percent (17-of-26) from the field en route to the most first-half points allowed by St. Olaf (22-6) in an opening frame this season.
“When you start that way, it makes it easier to finish,” said Douma. “We pressured them early. We executed at a very high rate; probably the highest all season. That was the difference.”
But the physical lineup of St. Olaf turned up the defensive intensity after the break and steadily whittled the lead, climbing to within 59-55 with 8:57 left.
Central had another burst left in its tank, though, reeling off eight unanswered points to reassert control for its first NCAA tournament win since 1991, an 88-77 win over Bethel (Minn.) inside P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. Its last NCAA tournament victory away from home was a 72-64 win over Redlands (Calif.) in 1985 at Lincoln, Neb.
“We started well in the second half, but we had a tough stretch,” Douma said. “But we toughened up defensively, got some rebounds and pushed through it.
“We showed all kinds of resiliency tonight.”
The Central seniors definitely brought their A-game. Guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) led all players with 27 points, one less than his career best, on 9-of-14 shooting and five assists. Forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) notched his 14th double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Center Spencer Bakerink (senior, Creston), giving up some size in the middle, scored a career-high 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting and hauled in eight rebounds.
“Kevin did a great job attacking the rim and taking what they gave him,” said Douma. “Spencer came up with six offensive rebounds, which led to most of his points. He slowed down and finished. Those plays were huge.”
The Dutch shot 49.1 percent (28-of-57) from the field, 36.8 percent (7-of-19) from distance and converted on 22-of-30 free throw attempts. Central dominated the glass 43-29, including 14 offensive rebounds leading to 19 second chance points and 38 points in the paint. The Oles shot 44.1 percent (30-of-68) from the field, but only 25.0 percent (5-of-20) from 3-point range.
“It’s a shooters’ gym,” Douma said. “We feel comfortable in it and we shot well. We took a ton of shots in our practices and it paid off tonight.”
Guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek-Amana HS) joined the senior trio in double figures with 12 points and five dimes. Forward Colby Taylor (freshman, Creston) finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists, while frontcourt mate Kyle Newendorp (junior, Pella) scored eight points, all in the first half, on 4-of-4 shooting. Guard Fred Pratt (senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) chipped in two points and two rebounds.
“Kyle did a great job getting us started in the first half,” said Douma. “He exploited some things they were trying to do defensively and finished his opportunities.”
The bench play was even more important due to the absence of forward Yaw Sapon-Amoah (senior, Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS), who was sidelined due to injury.
St. Olaf’s all-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honoree Sterling Nielsen led the Oles with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Fellow all-league pick Connor Gunderson was held to just five points on 1-of-3 shooting. No other St. Olaf player reached double figures.
Wis.-Stevens Point preview—Next the Dutch draw the daunting task of playing weekend host and unanimous top-ranked Wis.-Stevens Point (27-1). The Pointers qualified for their eighth consecutive NCAA tournament after winning the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tourney title by defeating then No. 2-ranked Wis.-Whitewater 74-57. Wis.-Stevens Point’s only loss this season came at the hands of the Warhawks in an 81-76 overtime setback at Whitewater, Wis.
It’s the first-ever meeting between the Dutch and Pointers.
The Pointers are 29-9 all-time in the NCAA tournament, fueled by their three national titles in 2004, 2005 and 2010. Wis.-Stevens Point is one of three schools with three or more men’s basketball national championships.
Stevens Point’s senior guard Tyler Tillema was named the 2014 WIAC Player of the Year, headlining an all-league squad that sported three Pointers. Tillema, the eighth Pointer to be named conference player of the year, was the league’s leading scorer with 20.3 points per game. He also ranked third in the WIAC in assists (3.8), fifth in steals (1.38) and sixth in the field goal percentage (.535). Tillema is also the team’s leading rebounder with 5.2 boards per game.
Senior forward Trevor Hass and senior center Clayton Heuer joined Tillema on the league’s first team, which honored 12 players. Hass was also the Pointers’ representative on the All-WIAC Sportsmanship Team. Guard Austin Ryf was named to the five-man WIAC All-Defensive Team as well.
Hass scored a game-high 25 points Friday night against Marian. Tillema joined Hass in double figures with 12 points and added five rebounds and five assists.
Wis.-Stevens Point is coached by Bob Semling, the 2014 WIAC Coach of the Year and the winningest coach in program history. Semling has compiled a 213-48 overall record as the Pointers’ pilot, including a 119-25 mark in league play.