Four starters scored in double figures to help 2nd-ranked Augustana University hold off Nebraska-Kearney, 77-67, in an NCAA Tournament second round game Sunday night in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The fourth-seeded Lopers end the year with a 21-12 mark.
The top seed in the Central Region, the Vikings (30-2) advance to Tuesday night’s championship game against second-seed NW Missouri State. The 11th-ranked Bearcats (27-5) got 38 points from MIAA Player of the Year Justin Pitts to roll past Minnesota State, 82-60, in the early game.
In front of a raucous crowd of 2,751 at the Sanford Pentagon, UNK battled all night against an experienced and tall Augie team that is now 61-5 since the start of last season.
The Lopers beat Fort Hays State, 79-67, Saturday in a game where they led most of the way but never by more than 12 points. That script was flipped tonight as UNK trailed for 35 minutes with the Vikings leading by 12 points on several occasions.
“We’re very thankful of the people here at Augustana. They ran a first class tournament,” said Loper head coach Kevin Lofton. “Hats off to Augie; they are a good team and we gave them our best shot. It just wasn’t enough tonight.”
Shooting a solid 52 percent (29 of 56) from the field and having a plus two rebounding margin, UNK struggled from the three point line (2 of 12) and went 7 of 11 at the line. They came in averaging close to 18 made free throws a night.
Battling foul trouble and some first half injuries to Ty Danielson (York) and Trey Lansman (Harlan, Ia.), the Lopers trailed 37-31 at the break and 64-53 with 6:28 to go. That double digit lead came thanks to Augie rebounding the second of two missed free throws and getting a bucket from reserve guard John Warren (eight points; 4 of 4 field goals).19222
Beranek scored the game’s next three points and then swatted a shot by senior wing Alex Richter. He had the potential of a fast break layup at the other end but the shot was blocked by Richter. That in turn led to a breakout for Augie and another double digit lead, 66-56.
UNK’s last gasp came soon after as Danielson, with the shot clock winding down, sunk a deep three from the top of the key. The Lopers got a stop but a jumper from Pierce sophomore Lane Rohrich rimmed out. Had the shot fallen, it would’ve made 69-63 with 3:03 to go.
Instead, Augie got the defensive board and scored the next four points, the last two coming on a dunk by Richter.
“I’m extremely proud of Connor and Ethan and our basketball team. All year long, they fought and fought to get to this point. We wanted to see how far we could go once we got here,” said Lofton.
Augie’s top two players, senior forwards Daniel Jansen (6-9, 240 lbs.) and Casey Schilling (6-6, 215 lbs.) paved the way. Schilling provided a double double (17 points & 10 rebounds), as well as four assists and four steals. The NSIC Player of the Year, Jansen (19 points) fell a rebound shot of a double and was one of three Vikings to make seven shots from the field.
Richter (16 points) was the other with point guard Jordan Spencer at 10 points, eight assists and four boards in playing all 40 minutes.
Reaching the 30 point mark for a fourth straight game, Ravenna senior Connor Beranek had 18 in the first half and 13 more in the second. He was 12 of 24 from the field (0 of 3 threes) and 7 of 9 at the line. Going the entire way, he also had eight rebounds and two steals.
“They played real physical with me. They play really good team defense,” said Beranek. “Hats off to those guys. They are a really, really good team. It should be a great game Tuesday with Northwest.”
Augie head coach Tom Billeter said of Beranek “We call him Connor Really Good. I think Adam (Beyer) did an unbelievable job on him. John (Warren) came in and did an unbelievable job. And we held him to 31. That kid can play basketball.”
Next, Danielson had nine of his 11 points in the second half with senior Ethan Brozek (Norfolk Catholic H.S.) and Lansman scoring eight a piece. In his final collegiate game, Brozek fell just shy of a triple double as he had a career-high 10 assists and a team-high nine rebounds.
A lot of those dimes came on back cuts to Beranek on the base line.
“We’ve gone inside out all year. And the credit goes to Connor and Ethan. All year long they’ve done a good job of playing together and off each other. It’s high low motion offense. They understand how to make it work and can read defenses.”
Beranek finishes 2015-16 with the second most points (831) and second highest scoring average (25.2) by a Loper in a single season. His career point total of 1,870 places him seventh on the all-time list, just 14 points behind Tom Kropp.
Finally, Brozek had a team-best 113 assists this season and is now 14th (1,438) on the all-time scoring list.