Brett Wittchow had a season-high 25 points as the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh men's basketball team built a large early lead and held on for a 77-72 victory over UW-Eau Claire on Saturday (Feb. 3) in Kolf Sports Center.
UW-Oshkosh (16-5, 6-4 WIAC), ranked 18th in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, scored the first 13 points of the game and led, 39-19, late in the first half.
UW-Eau Claire (10-11, 2-8 WIAC) pulled within 73-72 with 20 seconds left, but Wittchow shot 4-for-4 from the free throw line the rest of the way. The Blugolds' Chris Duff missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining.
The Titans avenged a 60-57 loss to the Blugolds on Jan. 20 in Eau Claire.
UW-Oshkosh remains tied for third in the conference standings with 19th-ranked UW-Whitewater (16-5, 6-4 WIAC) with four games to play. Twenty-fifth ranked UW-Stevens Point (15-6, 9-1) leads the league – one game ahead of 20th-ranked UW-Platteville (18-3, 8-2).
Wittchow, who finished one point shy of his career high, shot 7-for-9 from the field, including 5-for-6 from behind the 3-point arc, and 6-for-6 at the foul line. He added four rebounds and three assists.
Ben Boots had 17 points and five assists for UW-Oshkosh, which also received 15 points, four rebounds, two steals and one block from Adam Fravert. Boots shot 10-for-12 from the free throw line while Fravert went 7-for-12 from the field.
Boots went into the game leading the WIAC with 4.1 assists per game, a .859 free throw percentage and a 2.25 assist-to-turnover ratio. Fravert was the league leader with 7.8 rebounds per contest and 27 blocks.
UW-Eau Claire outshot UW-Oshkosh, .508 (30-59) to .489 (22-45), from the field, but the Titans held advantages in rebounds (32-24) and assists (13-8). UW-Oshkosh was 9-for-15 (60 percent) from 3-point range for its best long-range percentage of the season.
UW-Oshkosh converted 24 of 33 (72.7 percent) free throws while UW-Eau Claire made six of its eight (75 percent) attempts at the charity stripe.
The Titans entered Saturday's game pacing the conference in field goal percentage defense (.402), average rebounding margin (+10.4), and assists (14.3) and rebounds (40.5) per game.
UW-Oshkosh made its first five shots from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers by Wittchow, en route to building a 13-0 lead.
UW-Eau Claire went 0-for-5 from the field and committed a turnover on its first six possessions until George Diekelman knocked down a jumper to trim the Blugolds' deficit to 13-2.
Consecutive layups from Wittchow and Fravert extended the Titans' advantage to 26-10 with nine minutes left in the first half, and a pair of free throws by Boots provided UW-Oshkosh its largest lead at 39-19 at the 3:51 mark.
UW-Oshkosh, which owned a 39-25 lead at intermission, maintained a double-digit advantage for nearly 33 minutes until a 3-pointer by Cole Rabedeaux cut the Blugolds' deficit to 61-54 with 4:33 left in the second half.
Trailing 69-62 with 68 seconds to play, Duff accounted for each of his team's next five points as the Blugolds pulled within 70-67 with 38 seconds to go. Boots converted two free throws to increase UW-Oshkosh's advantage to 72-67 ahead of Diekelman's jumper that trimmed the UW-Eau Claire deficit to 72-69 with 30 seconds remaining.
Boots split a pair of free throws for a 73-69 UW-Oshkosh lead, but Duff sank a 3-pointer to pull UW-Eau Claire within 73-72 with 20 seconds left. Wittchow hit two free throws to extend UW-Oshkosh's advantage to 75-72, and Duff misfired on a leaning 3-pointer from the right. Charlie Noone collected the rebound off Duff's long-range miss and called timeout before falling out of bounds near the baseline.
UW-Oshkosh then beat the Blugolds' backcourt pressure as Jake Laihinen fired the inbound pass past midcourt to a wide-open Wittchow, who made two free throws after being fouled while attempting to dribble out the clock.
Diekelman paced the Blugolds with 20 points and three assists. He entered the game leading the WIAC with 16.5 points per contest.
Duff contributed 15 points and a game-high eight rebounds for UW-Eau Claire while Rabedeaux finished with 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field.
UW-Oshkosh travels to 12th-ranked UW-Whitewater on Wednesday (Feb. 7).