On March 17, men’s basketball (23–9, 5–5 in the NESCAC) fell to the Augustana Vikings 90-79 in the NCAA tournament semifinal.
Against a talented Augustana team, the men needed to recreate the magic of their first two tournament games, in which they shot almost 70 percent from the field. Instead, it was the Vikings who caught fire in the Final Four game, while the Ephs were ice cold.
Despite only committing three fouls and an incredible one turnover against the stout Viking defense in the first half, the Ephs made just 35.5 percent of their shots and one of their first 10 3-point attempts. This kept them in the red against the pinpoint accuracy of the Vikings, who shot 66.7 percent from behind the arc and made six of their first seven 3-pointers.
With two resounding blocks by Micah Martin on the Ephs’ first two possessions, the Vikings demonstrated that their defense would be a force to contend with. Although the men adjusted, three balls from Crishawn Orange and Jacob Johnston and two from Dylan Sortillo catapulted Augustana to a double-digit lead in the first few minutes.
Defense soon gave the Ephs some wind, as the Vikings committed eight first-half turnovers. Consequently, the men were occasionally able to narrow the deficit to single digits, but Augustana seemed to have an answer for every incipient run Williams looked to make.
Treys by Bobby Casey ’19 and tri-captain Dan Aronowitz ’17 had narrowed the lead to nine, but Nolan Ebel answered with a layup in the final minute to put the score at 42-31. After forcing a shot clock violation with less than two seconds in the half, Williams inbounded the ball to Aronowitz who heaved a buzzer-beater shot from half court that banked off the glass and into the bucket.
Capitalizing on the momentum of Aronowitz’s miracle shot, the men opened the second half with a 10-0 run. After trailing by as much as 15 in the first half, the Ephs took a 44-42 lead with 16:46 to play thanks to a pair of foul shots by Cole Teal ’18. Augustana jumped right back in, however, as Orange knocked down buckets on back-to-back possessions to tie the game.
Two Donovan Ferguson free throws, followed by a steal to set up Brett Benning for a floater, gave the Vikings a modest four-point lead, which they preserved for the next several minutes.
Twice, the Ephs’ shooting threatened this advantage, but each time the Vikings were able to respond and maintain a slim lead.
Down 71-65, Aronowitz got a layup off a baseline drive, Teal hit a foul shot, and Aronowitz got a putback off his own miss to cut the Ephs’ deficit to just one. Just as Williams looked to continue this momentum shift into the final minutes, Augustana launched into its own run, starting with a pair of free throws by Ebel. A tough post bucket by Martin through a triple-team and then a huge 3-pointer from the corner by Benning to extended the Viking lead by eight almost instantaneously.
Williams looked to recover, as Aronowitz made an acrobatic layup through a foul, but three more points from Orange, including a long two-point jumper, gave the Vikings an 81-72 lead with 1:11 to play and seemed to seal the game.
The Ephs resorted to fouling, and although Aronowitz and Teal converted a few possessions in the final minute, the Vikings maintained their late lead from the free throw line to win the game 90-79.
Aronowitz finished his college career with his best scoring performance of the year. He led all scorers with 29 points on five 3-pointers, while Kyle Scadlock ’19 contributed 16 points and a team-high five rebounds.
The Vikings shot well from beginning to end, finishing the game with a remarkable 62 percent performance from the floor and 56.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Ephs, meanwhile, made 40.3 percent of their attempts and only eight of their 29 shots from long range (27.6 percent).
“Playing Augustana was a great test for our team,” Head Coach Kevin App said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we competed at a high level, stayed together as a group and gave ourselves a chance to win. Unfortunately, Augustana made a few more plays in the last four minutes than we did.”
He acknowledged the team’s seniors, Aronowitz and tri-captain Taysean Scott ’17.
“Our two seniors left their mark on our program in their final season. They led our group, and I will miss getting the opportunity to coach them everyday. I told them that it’s been a pleasure getting to say that I was their coach.”
Augustana lost to the Babson Beavers 79-78 in the championship game on March 18.
At the end of the tournament, Aronowitz was named to the All-Tournament Team. He averaged 18.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in the tournament, adding 15 3-pointers in those five games.
Aronowitz is 14th on the Ephs’ all-time scoring list with 1362 points.
On April 6, App received the Glenn Robinson Award as the top Div. III men’s basketball coach in the country. In his third season after taking over for Mike Maker, App led the young team to the Final Four.
“Awards like these are only possible when you’re surrounded by terrific people,” App said. “My assistants, Brian Emerson and Justin Bradley, and the wonderful student-athletes we have the privilege of coaching are the reason we had some success this season.”
Moving forward, App said he would like the team to build off this season’s sucess.
“We saw that when we play with confidence, joy and unity, we can be very good,” he said.