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Augustana Observer

Augustana’s NCAA tournament run cut short at Sweet 16

Augustana senior Chrishawn Organe goes up for a short over his Wheaton opponent senior Trevor Gunter. The Vikings lost 93-79 on Friday, Mar. 8 in the Carver Center.

The Augustana men’s basketball team’s historical season came to an end this year in the Sweet 16 after losing 79-93 to their fellow CCIW team, the Wheaton Thunder on Friday, March 8 in the Carver Center.
The Vikings finish the season with a 26-4 record after competing in their fifth-straight Sweet 16 appearance, something not many teams have done.
Head coach Grey Giovanine was proud of his team regardless of the end result. After their successful season, Giovanine still praises his team’s accomplishments.
“Five straight Sweet 16s is nothing short of remarkable,” Giovanine said. “Would we have liked to win another one? Absolutely, but you always want to win another one until you get to the end.”
The Vikings were able to hold back the Thunder for the entirety of the first half after starting down 0-2. Augustana led by as much as nine points after senior Brett Benning (11 points) made his first three-pointer only seven minutes into the game.
Within the next seven minutes, the Thunder caught up to the Vikings trailing by one point. The rest of the half was a back and forth scoring battle until Augustana ended up leading 36-30 at halftime.
The Vikings’ defensive strategies were not as successful in the second half of the game, in which the Thunder scored 63 points. The leading shooter in the nation, Wheaton’s Aston Francis, shot 24 points alone during the second.
After winning the previous two matchups this year, the Vikings couldn’t stop Wheaton’s shooting power. Benning talked about how the Vikings struggled defensively when trying to catch up with the Thunder.
“It’s always hard to beat a team three times in one year,” Benning said. “They’re a good team and Francis is a really dynamic player and tough to stop.”
Augustana held their lead until 13:28 left in the second half when Wheaton went up by one 46-47. The Vikings were then up 49-47, but never regained the lead after.
For seniors Nolan Ebel (23 points), Chrishawn Orange (20 points), Joe Kellen (2 points) and Benning, this would be their final game played in the Carver Center and in their college career.
While the loss was at first shocking and difficult to believe, Ebel said how the Vikings want to keep their heads held high.
“All good things come to an end,” Ebel said. “We’re going to win with class and lose with class.”
Although much of the Augustana community expected a long-lasting NCAA tournament run for the Vikings, the standing room only Carver crowd was sure to give their praise at the end of Friday night’s game. This group of seniors have brought four years of successful basketball to Augustana, and the community is thankful for every minute they played on the court.
“These seniors have been phenomenal,” Giovanine said. “I don’t know if we’ve had a harder group in terms of working and commitment. Their record speaks for itself. It’s going to certainly go down as one of the great classes in the history of Augustana basketball.”
During the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the Vikings won their 93-67 first round game over Aurora University (17-12) on Friday, March 1.
With the help of the home crowd at the Carver Center, the Vikings kept their lead the entire game. The largest Augustana lead was by 37 points.
Three-pointers played a major role in the Vikings’ victory. Senior captain Nolan Ebel (13 points) started off the game with a three-pointer, with senior Brett Benning following suit a minute later.
There were 10 total three-point baskets made in the first half by the Vikings and zero three-pointers made by the Spartans. Ebel said how the crowd’s excitement early on allowed the team to build momentum.
“It makes you feel really good when the crowd gets involved. We do everything we can to get them going early,” Ebel said. “Brett [Benning] and other guys hitting big shots early got the crowd fired up and then we feed off that energy and carry that on the rest of the game.”
Benning was Augustana’s lead scorer of the night with 21 points. He made a total of 5 three-point baskets, including one at the buzzer to end the first half. Overall, the Vikings made 14 three-pointers compared to Aurora’s five.
Benning talked about how creating this strong lead from the beginning boosted the team’s confidence.
“That’s something we want to focus on, jumping on [the other team] early because a couple times this year, we’ve gone down about 10 points early and then have to fight back,” Benning said. “We want to avoid that and set the tone early and our game early.”
The Vikings led 60-29 at the half, a rare margin for only a first half. It took the Spartans until 3:42 in the second half to reach 60 points.
Augustana’s bench saw more time than the starters in the second half. Big contributors were sophomore Carson Frakes (9 points, 6 rebounds) and junior Lucas Simon (7 points).
The Spartans outscored Augustana in the second half 38-33, but the closest they got to surpassing the Vikings was by 23 points.
The Vikings overcame a back and forth battle in their second round NCAA tournament game winning 85-72 over Capital University (21-8) on Saturday, March 2.
The teams saw seven ties and 10 lead changes in the game. Neither team lead by more than eight points, keeping a high level of intensity in the packed Carver Center.
This win allowed the Vikings to advance to their fifth consecutive Sweet 16. The seniors, including captain Chrishawn Orange, have been in this position all four years of their Augustana careers, so they know how special this victory is to the fans and the team.
“It feels fantastic to win that way and in that fashion, having the community and the students back,” Orange said. “It was fun.”
The Vikings started the game strong, keeping a steady lead for the first nine minutes of the game. When the Vikings were up by eight points, their largest lead of the night, the Crusaders then went on an 8-0 run to tie the game.
After starting off the game in the lead, the Vikings struggled closer to the half. The Crusaders shot a buzzer three-pointer to make the score 35-41 at halftime.
Augustana opened the second half with multiple baskets, but then Capital earned their biggest lead of the night, 46-54, with 12:59 left to go.
The Vikings regained their lead with 9:46 left after four different Augustana players made four consecutive three-pointers: senior Brett Benning (10 points), senior captain Nolan Ebel (27 points), junior Pierson Wofford (18 points) and Orange (15 points).
These four players have experienced this NCAA tournament road before. Head coach Grey Giovanine said how their leadership helps the whole team feel prepared.
“I think you saw the best of Augustana basketball. The character of this team, the experience, the tenacity, the togetherness,” Giovanine said. “Most teams get down in that kind of pressure and they splinter. These guys came together.”
Even after the Vikings’ three-point shooting spree, they found themselves down to the Crusaders 60-61 with 7:40 left.
This sparked an Augustana 8-0 run to gain one of their biggest leads of the night. The Vikings never lost their lead after this. Wofford said how the crowd’s energy helped the team be more confident in their shooting.
“When you get that momentum going and the crowd gets into it, it’s hard not to think ‘We’re on the run, we’re about to come back,’” Wofford said.
After trailing by eight earlier in the second half, the Vikings then held an eight point lead over the Crusaders with 2:10 left. Augustana’s offense clicked better in the second half, bringing the team to victory.
Augustana finishes their season 26-4 overall and 15-1 in conference. They won their fifth straight conference title during the season.
Caption: Augustana senior Chrishawn Orange goes up for a short over his Wheaton opponent senior Trevor Gunter. The Vikings lost 93-79 on Friday, Mar. 8 in the Carver Center. Photo by Alia McMurray

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Augustana’s NCAA tournament run cut short at Sweet 16