This past weekend, the Lawrence University basketball team had their work cut out for them. Friday night, the Vikes traveled to the Green Knights of St. Norbert, who is ranked fourth in conference currently and Saturday night, the Vikes hosted the Pioneers of Carroll College, ranked second in conference.There was a lot on the line for the Vikings in their game against St. Norbert. Prior to the game, the Vikings were ranked 19th in the country by D3Hoops.com, a top 25 ranking that Lawrence basketball has not seen since its #1 standing two years ago. Additionally, the Vikes were undefeated in conference and were riding a nine game winning streak.
In the opening minutes, the Vikings jumped to a 14-3 lead, a promising start for all the elements on the line. However, the lead soon disappeared as the Green Knights battled back, going on a 13-2 run minutes before the end of the first half. The Vikings ended the half trailing 24-30.
It seems there has been a consistent theme throughout the past few games for our Vikings — they come out of that locker room with the mentality that losing is not an option. The Vikings began the second half with an 11-2 run, silencing the crowd and regaining the lead. Once that lead was theirs, they refused to give it back and did not for the rest of the game. The Knights constantly battled back, causing four ties throughout the second half. With a minute left in the game, the Knights were only down three points, but a pair of free throws for both junior Ryan Kroeger and senior Andy Hurley put the icing on the cake. The Vikings ended the game going 8-8 from the free throw line, giving them the 65-56 victory. Kroeger led all scorers with 15 points, while Hurley and junior Doug Kadison also contributed by scoring in double figures.
With the winning streak alive and the Top-25 standing still intact, the Vikings headed home for their game against rival Carroll College. Saturday’s game is one for the books. Even in the opening minutes, one could easily tell this game was going to be a battle. As one team scored, the other team scored. When there was a lead, the scores were close, and when the score was within one point, the lead often switched sides. There were four lead changes and no lead was greater than six points. The half ended with the Vikings leading 38-34.
Throughout the game, both teams were culprits of weak fouls and blown calls. Many players on both sides fell into foul trouble early, which could have been easily prevented.
Both teams decided to play against the adversity of poor refereeing and entered the second half with a mission. Despite scoring first in the second half, the Vikings started stronger, going on a 9-4 run and giving them the largest lead of the game of 9 points. The Pioneers worked their way to within five points before the Vikings once again went on a 9-4 run to increase their lead back to nine with ten minutes left to play. As the game continued, both teams remained physical and as a result fell into some serious foul trouble. As foul trouble quickly crippled both sides, the fans of Lawrence made their concerns clear as there were several plays where booing was heard from all 1053 in attendance. Despite the reaction, not only did weak fouls and poor calls continue but they seemed to snowball almost every play.
With players’ emotions running ragged, having turned the ball over or receiving a controversial foul, the leaders of both sides had to step up. Both John Hoch and Wes Ladwig of the Pioneers gained control of their troops and helped Carroll to get within three points with 1:44 left to play in the game. However, Vikings leaders, senior Ben Rosenblatt, Kroeger, and Hurley pushed back as they extended their lead to five points with 22 seconds left in the game. After a pair of free throws by Kroeger, the Pioneers received the ball with four seconds left, down by three points. The Pioneers needed a miracle and it turned out it came from Ladwig. In the closing seconds, Ladwig received the ball, took one dribble and shot the ball high into the air. The crowd, in silence, watched the ball seemingly float in the air and fall down, nothing but net, into the hoop. The game was going into overtime.
During the first overtime, both teams had more than a simple victory on their minds. As both teams battled for leads, it was again the Vikings that had a lead during the final 30 seconds. The Vikings led by four with 13 seconds left to play after a pair of free throws by Kroeger. The Pioneers scored quickly, cutting the Vikings lead to two with ten seconds left to play. Once again, the Pioneers needed a miracle and it was given to them on a traveling call with six seconds left to play. The crowd was on their feet, cheering their lungs out to pick up their Vikings. The crowd was silenced as Pioneers Nate Zimmerman hit a jumper, tying the game after the buzzer with a 98-98 score.
The Pioneers started the second overtime much stronger than the Vikings, as it seemed the effects of poor calls and seemingly close victory began to settle. But it is not the Viking way to accept defeat, especially this group of men’s basketball players. After being down by five points with two minutes to play, the Vikings battled back to within two points after a minute of play. But dagger after dagger of weak foul calls crippled the Vikings as they soon became without much needed Hurley, Chris Page (’09), and Rosenblatt with a minute left to play.
The Pioneers scored to pull away by four points with 24 seconds left in the game. Kroeger granted the Vikes their miracle with a jaw-dropping four-point play. The score was tied 113-113 with 11 seconds left. Could this game go into triple overtime? Ladwig once again saved the day for the Pioneers with a 15 foot jump shot to seal the deal. The game ended 115-113 in favor of the Pioneers.
Kroeger led Lawrence scorers with 33 points, including 16-16 from the line. Hurley added 22 points and 18 rebounds for an impressive double-double. All five Lawrence starters reached double digits in scoring. Pioneer hero Wes Ladwig led all scorers with 40 points, going 16-26 from the floor, hitting his only three-pointer from half court.
The Vikings are still in first place, going 8-1 in conference with six more conference games left. The Vikings head to Monmouth and Lake Forest this weekend, hopefully starting a new 10-game winning streak that extends through the Midwest Conference Tournament.