Titans Host Eagles In Battle For Conference Lead

Titans Host Eagles In Battle For Conference Lead

The lead in the WIAC men's basketball standings will be on the line when UW-Oshkosh hosts UW-La Crosse on Saturday (Jan. 19). The opening tip between the unbeaten league teams is set for 5 p.m. in Kolf Sports Center.

UW-Oshkosh (15-1, 5-0 WIAC), ranked fifth in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, has won a program-record 14 consecutive games. The Titans are seeking their first 6-0 league start since opening with a school-best nine straight victories during the 1967-68 campaign and their first 16-1 overall start since 1995-96.

UW-La Crosse (12-4, 5-0 WIAC) is off to the program's best league start since winning its first seven contests in the 1982-83 season. The Eagles, who have won each of their three WIAC road games this season, will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak to the Titans.

UW-Oshkosh, which advanced to the national championship game last season after placing third in the WIAC standings, was projected to win the conference title in a preseason poll conducted by the league's head coaches and sports information directors. UW-La Crosse was predicted to place fifth in the conference after finishing sixth in the 2017-18 WIAC standings.

The Titans, winners of their past 11 home games, have not lost since suffering an 86-77 setback at Wheaton College (Ill.) on Nov. 17.

UW-Oshkosh began its school-record winning streak with a 93-79 victory at Edgewood College on Nov. 20. The Titans, outscoring opponents by an average of 22.7 points during their 14-game streak, have opened their conference slate with home wins by scores of 96-70 over defending WIAC champion UW-Platteville on Jan. 2 and 91-56 over UW-River Falls on Jan. 12. UW-Oshkosh has earned road triumphs by scores of 77-75 at UW-Stout on Jan. 5, 78-68 at ninth-ranked UW-Stevens Point on Jan. 9 and 82-75 at 23rd-ranked UW-Whitewater on Wednesday (Jan. 16).

UW-La Crosse opened the season with a 3-3 record that included road losses by scores of 61-57 at Ripon College on Nov. 17, 84-79 at 25th-ranked Saint John's University (Minn.) on Nov. 20 and 89-77 at Central College (Iowa) on Dec. 1.

The Eagles lost their final non-conference contest, 76-71, against Elmhurst College (Ill.) on Dec. 29 in Phoenix, Ariz., but has since earned their best conference start in nearly four decades with wins of 92-72 over UW-Stout on Jan. 2, 80-76 at UW-Platteville on Jan. 5, 58-39 at UW-Eau Claire on Jan. 9, 75-60 over UW-Whitewater on Jan. 12 and 61-57 at UW-Stevens Point.

UW-Oshkosh enters Saturday's game ranked sixth in the country with a +11.4 average rebounding margin, seventh with a +19.6 average scoring margin and 10th with 10.7 turnovers per game. The Titans, who have out-rebounded each of their last 18 opponents dating back to last season, also lead the WIAC in scoring (86.1), field goal percentage (.489), field goal percentage defense (.409), assists per game (16.6), made 3-pointers (165), blocks (66) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55).

UW-La Crosse is averaging 73.4 points per game while allowing 66.9 per contest. The Eagles rank seventh in the nation by committing just 10.6 turnovers per game and list second in the WIAC with 53 blocks and a +3.4 average turnover margin.

The Titans feature four starters averaging at least 14 points per game.

Senior guard Ben Boots, a preseason All-America selection, is leading UW-Oshkosh with 16.6 points and 4.4 assists per game. He also paces the squad with a .867 free throw percentage, a .427 3-point percentage and 77 made 3-pointers. Boots, who has scored 1,459 career points, ranks ninth on the school's all-time scoring list while ranking second in program history with 353 assists and third with 232 made 3-pointers.

Junior center Jack Flynn is averaging 15.3 points and a team-leading 7.5 rebounds and a .600 field goal percentage. He has scored in double figures during each of the Titans' last 19 games on the way to ranking second in the conference this season with five double-doubles, 58 made free throws, 52 offensive rebounds and field goal percentage.

Junior forward Adam Fravert and senior guard Brett Wittchow both average 14 points per contest.

Fravert, the conference leader with 30 blocks, ranks third in the WIAC with 3.4 assists per game and fifth with 7.1 rebounds per contest and a .538 field goal percentage.

Wittchow enters Saturday's game 13 points shy of 1,000 in his career. He is averaging 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and leading the league with a 2.50 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Sophomore forward Connor Duax has started each of the past eight games for UW-Oshkosh, averaging 8.5 points per game since entering the starting lineup Dec. 14 and 8.1 points per contest overall. He is shooting 52.1 percent from the floor on the season.

Key reserves for the Titans this season include junior guard David Vlotho, junior forward Jake Zeitler and freshman guard Eric Peterson, who are all averaging more than 10 minutes per game. Vlotho contributes 6.3 points per game while Zeitler and Peterson are averaging 3.9 and 2.4 points per contest, respectively.

UW-La Crosse is led by a trio of senior starters in forward Ben Meinholz and guards Brendon Manning and Taulvish McCray.

Meinholz paces the Eagles with 14 points per game, a league-leading 33 steals and 18 blocks. He ranks second in the WIAC in blocks and fifth with a .862 free throw percentage. Meinholz ranks 10th in UW-La Crosse history with 1,202 career points.

Manning averages 13.6 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game while ranking 10th in the country with a WIAC-leading .662 field goal percentage. He also lists fourth in the conference with a team-best .863 free throw percentage.

McCray contributes 9.1 points per contest to go along with 41 assists.

Rounding out the Eagles starting lineup are junior forward Terek Nesheim and senior guard Tanner Bruchs, who are averaging 7.4 and 6.8 points, respectively. Bruchs has made a team-leading 21 3-pointers.

Freshman guard Ethan Anderson and junior guard Sam Burkart lead the Eagles' efforts off the bench. Anderson is averaging 7.0 points per game on .507 shooting from the field. Burkart is contributing 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest.

UW-Oshkosh won a thriller in the most recent meeting between the teams, defeating the Eagles, 76-74, during the opening round of the 2018 WIAC Championship in Kolf Sports Center. Flynn scored the game-winning basket on a layup with four seconds remaining as the Titans stormed back from a 14-point deficit in the second half. UW-Oshkosh escaped with the narrow victory as Meinholz's potential game-winning 3-pointer from 35 feet out caromed off the rim at the buzzer.

UW-Oshkosh will also celebrate its annual Men's Basketball Alumni Day on Saturday. Festivities include an alumni basketball game at 1 p.m. in Kolf Sports Center. Among the former Titans expected to be in attendance are Chad Doedens, Jordan Johnson, DJ Marsh, AJ Mueller, Charlie Noone, Alex Olson, Jade Royston, Greg Schrimpf, Buzz Soderman, Ralph Turner and Kevin Ziegler.