Brett Wittchow poured in a career-high 18 points off the bench and Charlie Noone added 17 to propel UW-Oshkosh into the final game of the WIAC Men's Basketball Championship with a 77-67 semifinal round victory over UW-Eau Claire on Friday (Feb. 26) in Albee Hall.
Second-seeded UW-Oshkosh (17-9) advances to the title contest, where it will host fourth-seeded UW-River Falls (17-10) at 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 28) in Kolf Sports Center. The Falcons secured a spot in Sunday's game with a 72-61 decision at top-seeded UW-La Crosse (16-10) on Friday.
The winner of Sunday's WIAC Championship title game will earn the league's automatic berth into the 62-team NCAA Division III Championship that commences next week.
In Friday's win, UW-Oshkosh owned a commanding 42-25 advantage in rebounds and made more free throws than UW-Eau Claire attempted. The Titans drained 28 of 37 (75.7 percent) tosses from the charity stripe while the Blugolds were just 12 of 22 (54.5 percent).
The Titans opened the second half with an 11-2 scoring run and held a lead for the final 18:57 of the game.
Wittchow surpassed his previous high of 16 points by connecting on 6 of 9 shots from the floor and all four of his free throws in 22 minutes of action.
Noone knocked down 5 of 8 shots from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, and all four of his tries from the foul line.
A 3-pointer by Tyson Kalien gave UW-Eau Claire its first lead at 5-3 early in the first half, and the Blugolds maintained an advantage until Alex Olson hit a pair of free throws to put UW-Oshkosh in front, 20-19.
Trailing 27-23, UW-Eau Claire scored nine of the last 11 points of the first half for a 32-29 lead at intermission.
Noone sparked UW-Oshkosh's game-changing run with a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half. Nick Olson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to give the Titans the lead for good at 34-32 with just under 19 minutes remaining.
Noone capped the surge with a 3-pointer and a jumper to extend the UW-Oshkosh advantage to 40-34.
Wittchow drilled a 3-pointer to give UW-Oshkosh its first double-digit lead at 49-39 with 11:29 to play, and UW-Eau Claire trailed by at least eight points for the remainder of the contest.
The Titans held their largest lead of 17 points on two occasions late in the second half. A jumper by Ben Boots provided a 70-53 advantage at the 1:57 mark, and a pair of Boots free throws made the score 72-55 with 93 seconds left.
UW-Oshkosh ended the game shooting 41.2 percent (21-51) from the field, including 52 percent (13-25) during the second half. The Titans also converted 33.3 percent (7-21) of its shots from 3-point range and held advantages in assists (12-5) turnovers (8-6) and steals (5-3).
George Diekelman had a game-high 20 points for UW-Eau Claire. He scored nine of his points on three 3-pointers during the final 90 seconds.
Tyson Kalien registered 16 points and Jack Martinek 15, while Jared Schneidermann led the Blugolds with eight rebounds.
UW-Eau Claire shot 44.2 percent (23-52) from the floor, including 33.3 percent (9-27) from behind the 3-point line.
During the regular season, the teams split a pair of lopsided home victories. UW-Eau Claire defeated UW-Oshkosh, 67-50, on Jan. 17 in Eau Claire, and the Titans won by a score of 71-49 on Feb. 10 in Oshkosh.
UW-Oshkosh, which lost last year's WIAC Championship final, 71-57, at UW-Whitewater, will be hosting the league tournament final for the first time since 2002. The Titans won the 2002 final, 70-69, over UW-Whitewater.