BLOOMINGTON – The Augustana College men's basketball team saved it best for the best time of the season.|
With a suffocating defensive effort, the young Vikings held hosting Illinois Wesleyan, the regular-season league champ and No. 3-ranked team in the latest D3hoops.com national poll, 25 points under its season scoring average. With just enough offense on its end, the Vikings grinded out a 53-47 victory in the semifinals of the CCIW Men's Basketball Tournament at The Shirk Center.
"The young Vikings may be growing up,'' said Augie coach Grey Giovanine. "We beat the No. 3-ranked team in the nation on their home court. We've had an awful lot of big wins in my 14 years here at Augustana and this is right up there with them.''
The win was Augie's first against a Top 20 team this season as the Vikings (19-7) were 0-6 against Illinois Wesleyan, North Central and Wheaton in the league season.
Augie now gets another shot at defending tourney champ North Central. The second-seeded Cardinals (23-3 and ranked No. 5 in the D3hoops.com poll) topped No. 3-seed Wheaton 59-50 in Friday's first semifinal.
Making the victory even more improbable was that the Vikings won without top shooter Mark Roth able to go because of an ankle injury and Tayvian Johnson being limited after re-injuring his right, non-shooting, shoulder.
That opened the door for a number of other Vikings to step up, and they did. Freshman guard Hunter Hill played 23 minutes, scoring eight points. Fellow freshman Griffin Pils hit a big triple, grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists in 22 minutes.
Of the nine Vikings to play, Roth was the only one not to score.
Augie again was led by freshman Ben Ryan, who logged his sixth double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior center Brandon Kunz hauled down a game-high 11 rebounds to go with six points.
Hill hit two free throws with 7:50 left in the second half that gave Augie a 38-37 lead that started a 12-1 that began with nine straight points. Dan Jurgutis (eight points) followed Hill's freebies with a 3-pointer, Ryan added two more free throws, Kunz scored on a move in the paint and Jurgutis hit again from the top of the key. With a 48-38 lead, the Vikings nursed it home the final 4:11 of the game.
It was quite a reversal from their last meeting when the Vikings let a 16-point lead slip away in a home loss.
"This was a monumental step in the development of this team,'' said Giovanine. "Both now and for moving forward.''
The Vikings now get to play for their fourth CCIW Tournament title in the eight years of the event. Ironically, they have not lost in a tourney title game.
The Vikings won Friday at the defensive end, holding IWU (21-5) to just 14-of-56 shooting (25 percent) and just 11 second-chance points, an area IWU normally excels.
"We really guarded them; we played a number of different defenses,'' said Giovanine. "We threw some stuff out there that we hadn't played all year. We had some time to prepare and wanted to give them a different look and it was effective.''
In addition to making it tough for IWU to get clean looks at the basket, the Vikings forced 15 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 42-41.
Without Brady Zimmer, a leading scorer who left with an apparent ankle injury, the Titans were paced by Andrew Ziemnik's 11 points.
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