UW-Oshkosh is the outright WIAC men's basketball champion for the first time in 41 years.
The nationally ranked Titans clinched their first outright conference title since the 1977-78 season by coming from behind to defeat UW-Stevens Point, 77-70, in front of 1,054 fans Saturday (Feb. 9) in Kolf Sports Center.
UW-Oshkosh turned a 65-60 deficit into a 68-65 lead during the span of four minutes and closed out the game with a 17-5 scoring run over the final 7:30. The Titans reclaimed the lead for good at 68-65 following three free throws from Ben Boots with 4:10 remaining. The Pointers pulled within 72-70 at the 2:43 mark but were held scoreless the rest of the way after missing each of their last five shots from the field.
The Titans, who won their 16th straight home game, increased their lead to 74-70 on a layup by Adam Fravert with 36 seconds to go, and UW-Stevens Point missed a pair of 3-pointers and a jumper on its final three possessions. UW-Oshkosh then secured the win by converting 3 of 4 free throw attempts in the last 23 seconds.
UW-Oshkosh (22-1, 12-0 WIAC), ranked third in the NCAA Division III by D3hoops.com, extended program marks for best record to start a season, best league start and consecutive wins. The Titans' 21-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the division and the fourth longest in WIAC history. UW-Oshkosh's program records before this season were a 16-1 record to begin 1995-96 season, nine league wins to start the 1967-68 campaign and a 12-game winning streak in 1967-68.
The Titans have won 13 WIAC regular season titles in their 121-year history, including a share of the 2002 championship and outright crowns in 1914, 1921, 1963, 1967, 1968 and 1978.
Saturday's game featured UW-Stevens Point's top scoring defense in all of Division III against UW-Oshkosh's top scoring offense in the WIAC. The Pointers entered Saturday allowing 60 points per game while the Titans were scoring 85 points per contest. UW-Stevens Point has now surrendered more than 74 points in regulation just twice on the season – both against UW-Oshkosh. The Titans also defeated the Pointers by a 78-68 score Jan. 9 in Stevens Point.
Boots scored 18 of his game-high 23 points for the Titans during the second half Saturday. He added seven rebounds and led all players with five assists and three steals. Boots shot 6-for-13 from the field and 9-for-10 at the free throw line.
UW-Oshkosh's Jack Flynn had 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the floor, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks while Brett Wittchow added 18 points and three assists. Adam Fravert contributed 11 points, a game-high nine rebounds and four assists. Wittchow had 16 of his points in the first half.
UW-Oshkosh shot 48.1 percent (25-52) from the field, 38.1 percent (8-21) from 3-point range and 82.6 percent (19-23) at the free throw line. The Titans held advantages of 36-24 in rebounds, 14-12 in assists and 4-0 in blocks. UW-Oshkosh has outrebounded 24 of its last 25 opponents dating back to last season.
The Titans went into the night ranked ninth in the nation with a +10.9 average rebounding margin while also leading the conference in rebounds (41.0) and assists (15.9) per game, field goal percentage (.479), 3-point percentage (.380), made 3-pointers (222), blocks (96), field goal percentage defense (.407) and average scoring margin (+19.1).
UW-Stevens Point finished the game shooting 47.4 percent (27-57) from the floor, 30.4 percent (7-23) from beyond the 3-point arc and 90 percent (9-10) at the foul line. The Pointers, the best free throw shooting team in the conference, owned a 7-10 edge in turnovers after entering the contest averaging a Division III-leading 9.2 per game. UW-Stevens Point's 24 rebounds were a season low.
Nate Dodge paced the Pointers with 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the field.
Ethan Bublitz added 15 points for UW-Stevens Point, which also received 14 points from reserve Brandon Spray and 10 from starter Canon O'Heron.
UW-Stevens Point (15-7, 7-5 WIAC), which is now tied for third place in the league standings, scored the first four points of the game before UW-Oshkosh responded with a 14-2 scoring run to claim a 14-6 advantage with 13:38 left in the first half. The Titans held their largest lead of the game at 27-17 following a 3-pointer from Wittchow at the 8:51 mark, but the Pointers rallied to reclaim a 33-32 advantage with 4:35 to play in the opening half.
O'Heron later hit a pair of jumpers that gave the Pointers a 39-36 lead at intermission as UW-Stevens Point shot 56.7 percent (17-30) during the first half.
Tied at 58 with 10:42 left in the second half, UW-Stevens Point's Aaron Knez scored a basket in the paint and Spray knocked down a 3-pointer for a 63-58 Pointer lead at the 8:20 mark. UW-Oshkosh tied the score at 65 on a layup from Flynn with 6:32 remaining and held the Pointers scoreless for a stretch of more than three minutes until Bublitz hit a pair of free throws that trimmed their deficit to 68-67 with 3:36 to go.
Flynn made two free throws and added a layup 33 seconds later to extend the Titans' lead to 72-67 with 2:55 left. Bublitz then drained a 3-pointer to pull the Pointers within 72-70 at the 2:43 mark, but UW-Oshkosh scored the last five points of the game on a layup by Fravert, two free throws from Boots and one free throw by Flynn.
Dodge, who entered the game as the WIAC leader in made 3-pointers, missed a long-range jumper that would have cut the Pointers' deficit to one point with 33 seconds to go.
UW-Oshkosh's .957 winning percentage is tied for the best in the division with defending national champion Nebraska Wesleyan University. The Titans fell to Nebraska Wesleyan University, 78-72, in the final of last year's Division III Championship.
With the victory Saturday, UW-Oshkosh interim head coach Matt Lewis' .957 winning percentage remains the best among all 2,190 active NCAA men's and women's basketball coaches.
UW-Oshkosh travels to UW-La Crosse on Wednesday (Feb. 13). The Titans defeated UW-La Crosse, 72-66, Jan. 19 in Oshkosh.