UW-Oshkosh is heading back to the title game of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship for the second year in a row.
UW-Oshkosh had five players score in double figures, including a team-leading 21 points each from Ben Boots, Jack Flynn and Brett Wittchow, during the Titans' 104-85 victory over Wheaton College (Ill.) in the national semifinals Friday (March 15) at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind.
UW-Oshkosh, which made 13 3-point shots against the Thunder, reclaimed the lead for good during the midst of a 14-0 run that turned a 34-28 deficit at the 4:40 mark of the first half into a 42-34 advantage with 1:53 remaining in the opening period.
The Titans, who held a 46-41 lead at intermission, went on to outscore Wheaton College, 58-44, during the second half.
UW-Oshkosh (28-3), ranked fourth in the country by D3hoops.com, advances to play in the national title game at 6:06 p.m. (central) Saturday (March 16) against sixth-ranked Swarthmore College (Pa.). Swarthmore College (29-3), making its first Final Four appearance, reached the Division III title game with a 70-63 win over ninth-ranked Christopher Newport University (Va.) on Friday.
Both UW-Oshkosh and Swarthmore College are seeking their first national titles. The Titans suffered a 78-72 setback to Nebraska Wesleyan University in last year's national championship contest in Salem, Va., during the program's NCAA Final Four debut.
The Titans' victory over Wheaton College (23-9) avenged an 86-74 loss to the Thunder on Nov. 16 in Wheaton, Ill.
UW-Oshkosh outrebounded Wheaton College, 49-39, Friday and held advantages of 17-11 in assists, 6-9 in turnovers, 5-4 in steals and 3-1 in blocks. The Titans, who made at least 10 3-pointers for the 16th time this season, have outrebounded 29 of their last 33 opponents.
Flynn matched his career high and led all players with 15 rebounds for the Titans, including seven on the offensive end, on the way to his team-leading 10th double-double of the season and the 18th of his career.
Boots contributed eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. The WIAC Player of the Year and National Association of Basketball Coaches All-America First Team selection shot 5-for-8 from beyond the 3-point arc to extend his school career records to 410 assists and 271 made 3-pointers.
Wittchow scored 15 of his points during the second half and concluded the game shooting 6 of 13 from the floor, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, and 5 of 5 at the foul line.
Rounding out the UW-Oshkosh starting lineup were Adam Fravert with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Connor Duax with 14 points and five rebounds. The Titans have had five double-digit scorers on 13 occasions this season.
The Titans shot 47.4 percent (36-76) from the field, 48.1 percent (13-27) from 3-point range and 79.2 percent (19-24) at the free throw line.
UW-Oshkosh now has a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference-record 318 made 3-pointers and 845 attempts from beyond the arc on the year. The Titans also have set new school marks for wins and points (2,619).
Wheaton College (23-9) concluded the game shooting 41.7 percent (30-72) from the floor, 34.4 percent (11-32) from 3-point range and 82.4 percent (14-17) at the foul line in its first trip to the NCAA Final Four. The Thunder allowed their highest point total of the season.
The Thunder's Aston Francis led all players with 44 points on 15 of 38 shooting from the field, including 5-for-20 from behind the 3-point line. He entered the contest pacing all of college basketball by averaging 33.9 points per game. Francis, the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Player of the Year and Jostens Trophy winner, also led Division III in made field goals (333), field goal attempts (755), made 3-pointers (168) and 3-point attempts (440).
Luke Anthony and Kobe Eichelberger had 10 points apiece in a reserve role for Wheaton College while Thunder starter Nyameye Adom recorded nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.
UW-Oshkosh opened the game with an 8-0 lead as the first three possessions resulted in a short jumper from Flynn and back-to-back 3-pointers by Fravert. Wheaton College answered with the next seven points before taking its first lead at 16-15 following a layup from Anthony with 12:10 left in the first half.
Francis added a layup to extend the Thunder advantage to 20-15 midway through the opening period and maintained a lead until a three-point play from Duax knotted the score at 24 with just over seven minutes to go in the first half.
Luke Peters provided Wheaton College a 34-28 lead with 4:40 left before intermission, but UW-Oshkosh responded with its game-changing 14-0 scoring run that began with a Fravert layup. Flynn continued the run with a pair of free throws ahead of a 3-pointer from Boots, a layup and a pair of free throws by Wittchow and another 3-pointer from Boots that preceeded a Wheaton College timeout with the Titans owning a 42-34 lead.
The Thunder missed all four of its field goal attempts and committed a pair of turnovers during the Titans' 14-0 run that spanned nearly three minutes.
Wheaton College pulled within 48-46 early in the second half and later cut its deficit to 64-59 with 12:29 remaining, but a string of eight straight points by UW-Oshkosh during a span of just 48 seconds extended the Titans' lead to 72-59 with 11:01 left. The quick scoring spurt was capped by consecutive 3-pointers 27 seconds apart from Boots and Wittchow.
UW-Oshkosh went on to lead by at least 10 points for the last 11:28 of the game. A Wittchow 3-pointer increased the Titans' advantage to 85-69 with 7:35 to play. UW-Oshkosh then surpassed the 100-point mark on the first of two Boots free throws at the 2:32 mark before owning its largest lead of 21 points at 104-81 following a 3-pointer from Wittchow with 87 seconds remaining.
UW-Oshkosh went into Friday ranked 13th in the country with a +8.9 average rebounding margin and a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio while listing 18th nationally in blocks and 19th in both made 3-pointers and turnovers per game.
Wheaton College entered the national semifinals ranked 12th in the nation in made free throws (503), 17th in field goal percentage defense (.398), 18th in blocks (138) and 19th in made 3-pointers (305).