Posted Online: March 07, 2014, 9:44 pm

Vikes open NCAA D3 Tourney with victory

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WHITEWATER, Wis. – After coming up short in its first postseason outing a week ago in the CCIW Men's Basketball Championships semifinals, the Augustana College cagers had one more chance to make a statement on Friday in the NCAA Div. III Championships opening round.

This time, the Vikings took advantage of their opportunity and rode a spirited effort to an 88-77 upset of nationally 18th-ranked St. Thomas in the opening semifinal contest of the UW-Whitewater pod at Kachel Gymnasium.

The Vikings (20-7), will take on nationally 3rd-ranked and hosting UW-Whitewater (24-4) tonight at 7 in the regional championship. The Warhawks blew away unranked Northwestern-St. Paul 79-55.

On Friday, the Vikings used great balance (four players in double-figure scoring), terrific shooting (35-51, 68.6 percent from the field) and sound defense and rebounding (33-20 edge) to log their first NCAA Tourney victory since falling to the same Tommies program in the 2011 Elite 8 at the Carver Center.

"Guys were out there being confident, playing aggressive and making big plays,'' said sophomore point guard Hunter Hill, who finished with 16 points. "If we want to make a run in the postseason, we've got to go get it and play with confidence.''

The Vikings did just that early on, taking an 8-7 lead with 15:42 left in the first half on Brandon Motzel's putback. Ben Ryan (team-high 17 points) then hit a jumper at the 14:53 mark and Augie never lost the lead from that point. Augie played well enough to open a lead as large as 17 points, but also struggled a bit as UST got back to within six in the middle part of the second half.

"When you get off to a good start, you start feeling good and guys are getting confident,'' said Hill. "That was huge for us today.''

While the Vikings had more turnovers (22) than they would have liked, Coach Grey Giovanine said his club "really made them pay'' when Augie broke pressure and got some easy looks. "We executed great when we didn't turn it over,'' said Giovanine. "Tremendous balance and great execution on offense.''

Behind Ryan and Hill, starters Jawan Straughter (13 points) and Tayvian Johnson (10 points) were also big in the game. So was Dan Jurgutis with 13 points off the bench in just his second game back from a toe injury. All eight Augie players in the game scored, helping the Vikes blow past UST's 61.2 defensive average.

"Here's a guy who hasn't played in the last month and he's really regaining his stride,'' said Giovanine, whose club was among those receiving votes in this week's Top 25 poll. "I thought Dan's minutes (24) were really big.''

Augie's defense was also solid against an explosive team that was averaging 74.7. The Tommies, though, were just 8-of-25 from the 3-point line as they shot 45.6 percent (26-57) from the field for the game.

"Our defense was just tremendous the first half,'' said Giovanine, whose club led 39-33 at the break after leading by 12 with just 1:27 left in the half. "They ended up not getting many looks other than just from the 3-point line. We were just not going to let them get to the paint; we wanted to challenge the 3 and contain the drive. It's tough to do both, but I thought we did a good job of it.''

It all led to a tremendous Viking victory.

"It was just a great win for our program,'' said Giovanine. "This is St. Thomas that has been in the Final Four two of the last four years, and is one of the premiere programs in the country. To beat them in the NCAA Tournament, just couldn't be more proud of our guys or more excited to continue to play in the NCAA playoffs.''

It might take an even better effort for the Vikings tonight to earn a trip to sectional play next weekend. Not only is Whitewater playing well and will be on its home court, but the Vikings came out of the game even more banged up. Already without Nic Hoepfner (ankle) and with Mark Roth having to play with a mask to protect a recently-broken nose, Augie may have lost Griffin Pils to an ankle injury. Ryan also sprained an ankle on Friday. Giovanine said both were questionable for tonight.

QC college men
Augustana 88, St. Thomas 77
Johnson 4-9 2-2 4 4 10, Ryan 7-10 3-5 3 8 17, Motzel 3-4 0-0 4 5 6, Hill 6-6 2-3 3 2 16, Straughter 5-7 3-4 3 1 13, Schlitter 2-4 1-3 1 7 5, Jurgutis 5-7 2-2 2 2 13, Pils 2-2 0-0 0 2 5, Roth 1-2 0-0 1 0 3. Totals 35-51 13-19 21 33 88.
No. 18 ST. THOMAS (22-6)
Montero 4-9 0-0 0 1 11, Riedman 3-7 2-2 4 3 11, Nord 3-8 5-6 2 3 11, Alipate 4-12 0-1 1 4 10, Tengwall 4-6 5-7 2 2 13, Tillman 4-8 3-3 4 1 11, Saarela 2-3 0-0 2 2 4, Pella 0-0 0-0 1 1 0, Schaeffer 2-4 2-2 1 0 6, Stewart 0-0 0-0 0 0 0. Totals 26-57 17-21 17 20 77.
Halftime: Augie 39-33.  3s: Augie 5-7 (Hill 2-2, Pils 1-1, Roth 1-2, Jurgutis 1-2); UST 8-25 (Riedman 3-5, Montero 3-7, Alipate 2-6, Schaeffer 0-1, Tengwall 0-2, Tillman 0-4). Assists: Augie 11 (Ryan 3, Straughter 2, Schlitter 2); UST 11 (Riedman 5). Turnovers: Augie 22 (Ryan 6); UST 17 (Riedman 7). Blocks: Augie 3 (Pils, Jurgutis, Schlitter); UST 3 (Pella 2, Saarela 1). Steals: Augie 11 (Johnson 3, Hill 2, Jurgutis 2); UST 14 (Tillman 4, Pella 4).