Ben Boots scored 25 of his season-high 31 points during the second half as the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh men's basketball team needed a season-best shooting performance to pull away for a 79-68 victory over St. Norbert College on Tuesday (Dec. 18) in Kolf Sports Center.
St. Norbert College claimed its first lead of the game at 47-44 with 13:17 remaining in the second half and owned a one-point edge with eight minutes to play, but Boots provided the Titans a 63-58 advantage they would not relinquish with back-to-back 3-pointers in the span of 42 seconds.
The Green Knights pulled within 68-66 at the 2:44 mark before UW-Oshkosh scored 11 of the final 13 points of the game, including nine from Boots.
Boots, who contributed four assists and a team-best three steals, concluded the contest shooting 9-for-14 from the floor, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and 8-for-8 at the free throw line. The 31-point showing ties the second best of Boots' career, trailing only his 36-point performance during UW-Oshkosh's 95-88 overtime win at Augustana College (Ill.) in the quarterfinal round of last year's NCAA Division III Championship.
Boots, a 2019 Division III preseason All-American by D3hoops.com, recorded his 70th double-digit scoring effort in 99 career games.
UW-Oshkosh (9-1), ranked sixth in the country by D3hoops.com, shot a season-high 60 percent (27-45) from the field and 89.5 percent (17-19) at the free throw line. The Titans' field goal percentage was their best in the 243 games since a .615 rate at Silver Lake College on Dec. 21, 2009. UW-Oshkosh had not shot better than 89 percent from the foul line since making each of its eight attempts against UW-Whitewater on Jan. 18, 2017.
The Titans, who extended their winning streak to eight games, concluded Tuesday's contest with advantages of 29-20 in rebounds, 12-11 in assists and 5-2 in blocks. UW-Oshkosh, which committed 15 turnovers, entered the night ranked third nationally with a 1.85 assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth with 9.7 turnovers per game and eighth with a +22.3 average scoring margin. The Titans have outrebounded their last 11 opponents.
UW-Oshkosh did not miss a shot from the field until the 12:44 mark of the first half on the way to shooting 72.7 percent (16-22) during the opening period.
Jack Flynn added 13 points for UW-Oshkosh as Titan starters accounted for 75 points, 24 rebounds and each of the team's assists, blocks and steals.
UW-Oshkosh starter Brett Wittchow had 11 points while Connor Duax and Adam Fravert had 10 apiece, marking the second game this season in which each Titan starter scored in double figures. Duax led all players with a season-high nine rebounds while Wittchow had a team-leading five assists without committing a turnover. Wittchow went into the game seventh in the nation with a 4.14 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Titans scored the first seven points of the game on layups by Flynn and Wittchow, and a Wittchow 3-pointer. UW-Oshkosh made each of its first seven field goal attempts and all four free throws en route to building a 19-10 lead with 13:09 left in the opening half.
St. Norbert College (5-4) cut its deficit to 30-26 following consecutive baskets from Joe Ciriacks with just under five minutes to play in the first half. UW-Oshkosh responded with eight unanswered points, including four by Duax, to extend its lead to 38-26 before entering intermission with a 40-33 advantage.
The Green Knights forged a pair of ties at 42 and 44 before taking their first lead of the game at 47-44 on a 3-pointer from Ciriacks with 13:17 left. Ciriacks buried another long-range jumper to give St. Norbert College its largest lead at 50-44.
Trailing 58-57 with 8:10 to play, UW-Oshkosh reclaimed the lead for good as Boots drilled 3-pointers at the 6:08 mark and again with 5:26 remaining for a 63-58 advantage.
Wade Geenen hit a pair of free throws to pull St. Norbert College within 68-66 with 2:44 to go, but the Titans shot 6-for-6 at the free throw line and Boots drained his fifth and final 3-pointer during the final 2:03. UW-Oshkosh built its largest lead of 13 points at 79-66 following two free throws from Boots with 15 seconds left.
St. Norbert College went 1-for-4 from the floor and committed one turnover during the last two minutes. The Green Knights snapped a string of more than three minutes without a field goal when Joe Lemon made a jumper with three seconds remaining.
Ciriacks paced St. Norbert College with 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the field.
Connor Curtis added 17 points, three steals and two blocks for the Green Knights, who also received 13 points off the bench from Jared Murphy.
St. Norbert College ended the game shooting 47.3 percent (26-55) from the floor, a season-high 47.4 percent (9-19) from beyond the 3-point arc and 87.5 percent (7-8) at the free throw line. The Green Knights, who allowed a season-high point total, entered Tuesday ranked sixth nationally with a .796 free throw percentage and seventh by allowing 61.5 points per game.
UW-Oshkosh owns a 50-37 advantage in its series with St. Norbert College, including wins in the past three meetings. The Titans defeated the Green Knights, 60-57, last season in De Pere.
The Titans are off until hosting Concordia University Wisconsin on Dec. 30 in Menominee Nation Arena, the Oshkosh home to the Milwaukee Bucks' NBA G League affiliate Wisconsin Herd.
Photo courtesy of Steve Frommell, D3Photography.com