The University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneers’ men’s basketball team dominated the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Pointers 70-57, claiming the conference title to advance to the NCAA Division-III tournament.
The Pioneers came into the conference tournament ranked 3rd in the conference, under the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Eagles and regular-season champs the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans.
The Pioneers began the tournament at home last Tuesday, facing the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks. The Pioneers suffered two losses against the Warhawks, but their luck changed Tuesday night as they managed to pull ahead early.
The Warhawks struggled to produce points in the post, and their hopes to close the gap near the end of the game were dashed when two of their players, number 14 Andre Brown and number 23 Derek Rongstad, both received technical fouls in the final minutes. The Pioneers, boosted by free throws, promptly pulled ahead and won with a score of 77-60.
In the next game of the tournament, the Pioneers travelled to La Crosse on Thursday to face the Eagles. The game was competitive, with the lead changing 15 times. The Pioneers, however, pulled ahead in the final minutes again to win 61-51 and continued on to the conference championship game.
The WIAC conference championship game was hosted at UW-Platteville, pitting the Pioneers against the Pointers, who had just upset the top-seeded UW-Oshkosh men by a convincing 20 points in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The game started off well for the Pioneers, led by shots from number 4 Quentin Shields and number 12 Robert Duax to help open scoring. The Pointers struggled early on to find an offensive rhythm, taking shots but often missing them. The Pointers did, however, manage to keep pace with the Pioneers in scoring, initially not allowing them to keep a lead for long.
The Pioneers began producing good ball movement, getting it into the paint and scoring contested shots. Two back-to-back shots from Pioneers’ number 40 Clay Gerd with about four minutes left in the half helped prevent the home team from going into halftime behind the Pointers. The first half ended with a tied score of 32-32.
The second half started out rough for the Pointers who committed seven fouls in the first eight minutes. The Pioneers took the lead at this point but failed to pull too far ahead due to a lack of good ball movement and some offensive miscues. Eventually, they allowed the Pointers to close the gap between them with a contested 3-point shot from the Pointers’ number 22 Drew Frederickson, giving the Pointers a 55-54 lead with 4:25 left.
The Pioneers began moving the ball more effectively and getting it into the post, where Duax won some decisive scoring battles to put the Pioneers on top. The Pointers had the disadvantage at this point and stagnated offensively during the final stretch, leading to an ugly finish. The Pioneers finished strong, winning with a convincing score of 70-57.
Duax led the Pioneers in scoring with 20 points. Gerds, who didn’t miss a shot all night, and Shields scored 16 and 14 points respectively. Number 5 Kyle Tuma got 10 rebounds, and Shields got 9. Number 20 Carter Voelker led the team with 5 assists.
Together, the Pioneers outshot the Pointers in all categories, shooting 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field, 37.5 percent (9-of-24) from 3-point range and 84.6 percent (11-of-13) from the free throw line.
Number 4 Ethan Bublitz and Fredrickson led the Pointers in stats. Bublitz had a team high of 15 points and 5 rebounds, and Fredrickson earned 14 points and 5 rebounds.
This was the first time that the Pioneers advanced to the NCAA tournament since 1999, when they advanced to and won the NCAA Division-III title. The Pioneers will now play their first game of the tournament in the round-of-32 against the Ohio-based Capital University Crusaders. This game will take place at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.