Defending tournament champion UW-Oshkosh raced out to a large early lead behind a tremendous shooting performance and coasted to a 75-61 victory over nationally ranked UW-Whitewater during the semifinal round of the WIAC Men's Basketball Championship held Thursday (Feb. 23) in Kolf Sports Center.
UW-Oshkosh (17-9) never trailed on the way to leading by at least 10 points for the final 34:53 of the contest. The Titans, who built a 24-7 lead less than eight minutes into the game, made nine of their first 12 shots from the field and seven of their initial 10 attempts from 3-point range.
Second-seeded UW-Oshkosh advances to the WIAC Championship final for the third consecutive year and the sixth time in program history. The Titans will travel to top-seeded UW-River Falls (23-3) on Saturday (Feb. 25) for a rematch of last year's WIAC tournament final, which UW-Oshkosh won at home by a 66-63 score.
UW-River Falls, ranked sixth in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, advanced to this year's final with a 68-55 home win over fifth-seeded UW-La Crosse (14-13) on Thursday.
The winner of the WIAC Championship earns the league's automatic berth to the 64-team NCAA Division III Championship that begins on March 3.
In UW-Oshkosh's semifinal victory, Max Schebel scored 12 points and grabbed a team-best eight rebounds.
UW-Oshkosh's Charlie Noone scored 11 of his 12 points during the first half, while Jack Flynn contributed 12 points in a reserve role, and starters Brett Wittchow and Ben Boots registered 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Noone connected on 4 of 6 shots from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and Boots dished out a game-high six assists. Noone extended his conference-leading total to 76 3-pointers on a league-best 42.5 percent shooting from long range this season.
UW-Oshkosh concluded the contest with advantages in field goal (.458 to .333) and free throw (.750 to .579) percentages in addition to edges in rebounds (42-39), assists (13-8) and blocks (5-0). The Warhawks, the highest-scoring team in the WIAC at 78 points per game, were held to their worst field goal percentage of the season.
The Titans shot 24-for-32 at the free throw line, while the Warhawks made just 11 of their 19 attempts. Nineteenth-ranked UW-Whitewater (21-6) entered the contest leading the conference in both free throws made and attempted.
Wittchow drove for a layup 18 seconds into the game. Schebel followed with a basket in the lane, and Noone hit a pair of 3-pointers and added a layup as UW-Oshkosh scored on its first five possessions.
Vlotho and Kyle Beyak drained back-to-back 3-pointers to extend UW-Oshkosh's lead to 18-7 before Boots and Noone connected on consecutive long-range jumpers that increased the Titans' advantage to 24-7 at the 12:24 mark of the first half.
UW-Oshkosh went to intermission with a 42-26 lead by outshooting UW-Whitewater, 56 (14-25) to 33.3 (10-30) percent, from the field during the opening period as the Warhawks matched their lowest-scoring first half of the season.
The Titans led by as many as 21 points on two occasions during the second half. UW-Oshkosh owned a 53-32 advantage following a layup by Fravert with 12:24 to play and a 55-34 leasd on a basket in the paint by Schebel with 11:03 left.
The Warhawks twice trimmed their deficit to 10 points with under four minutes remaining, but the Titans converted 12 of 15 free throws over the final 4:40 to preserve the victory.
UW-Whitewater's Scotty Tyler led all players with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Derek Rongstad and Andre Brown added 16 points and 11 points, respectively.
Warhawk Chris Jones, the WIAC's leading scorer at 18.4 points per game, was held to just four points on 1 of 11 shooting from the floor.
The Titans have won two straight games over UW-Whitewater for the first time since earning overtime victories of 97-92 on Jan. 26, 2005, and 68-67 on Jan. 18, 2006. UW-Oshkosh snapped a 16-game losing streak to the Warhawks with a 67-63 decision in Whitewater last Wednesday (Feb. 15).
UW-Oshkosh, which owns a 19-11 record in the WIAC Championship, is seeking its fourth league tournament crown. The Titans secured titles in 2002, 2003 and 2016.
UW-River Falls, which sports an 8-13 record in conference tournament play, advanced to the final round for the third time in program history. The Falcons won their lone title in 2012.
UW-Oshkosh and UW-River Falls split their two games during the regular season. The Falcons prevailed by a 79-57 score on Jan. 21 in Oshkosh, while the Titans secured a 65-60 victory in River Falls on Feb. 4 to hand the Falcons their lone home loss of the season.
The Titans have never lost to UW-River Falls in four previous WIAC postseason meetings. In addition to its win in last year's final, UW-Oshkosh also defeated the Falcons by scores of 95-87 in overtime during the 2001 quarterfinals, 86-80 in the 2002 semifinals and 83-56 during the 2007 quarterfinals.
UW-Oshkosh has won its last nine road games, and UW-River Falls has compiled a 10-1 record at home. The Titans have also won four consecutive contests over nationally ranked conference rivals and own a 6-4 record against ranked teams this season.
The opening tip for Saturday's WIAC Championship final is set for 7 p.m. in UW-River Falls' Karges Center.