The Lawrence University Men’s basketball team is continuing its best start since the 1996-97 season with two huge wins over an MWC rival this past week. Saturday the Vikings went into Ripon and pulled off a 79-64 upset of the Redhawks, who were ranked 21st nationally. On Tuesday the Vikings fought back from a five-point halftime deficit to defeat St. Norbert 57-54.
The game against Ripon showed the Vikings’ tenacity and intensity to the Redhawks. The Redhawks started the game hot, taking a 7-2 lead. However, that soon disappeared as the Vikings hit eight of their next 11 shots en route to a 22-4 run, putting them ahead 24-11.
The Vikings increased their lead to 18 points in the first half, but the Redhawks made a run as the first half ended to bring the lead back down to 13 points at 39-26.
The Vikings committed only one turnover in the entire first half, and were playing with enormous intensity. However, the Redhawks were far from dead. The Vikings turned the ball over more in the first two minutes of the second half then they did the entire first half, and Ripon went on an 18-4 run to get back within one point.
After the Vikings scored, Scott Landish added another short jumper to get the Redhawks within one point. However, that is the closest they would get. A Jason Holinbeck three-point play would put the Vikings ahead by four, and they would never look back again.
That would be the start of a 13-0 run that would seal the game for the Vikings.
The Vikings were led by Brendan Falls, who had 20 points for the Vikings.
Freshman Chris Braier had another monster game for LU with 13 points and eight rebounds. He leads the MWC in rebounds per game with 8.9 rebounds per game. He is also the Vikings leading scorer, averaging 12.2 points per game.
Ripon lost two of their main players in the game. Guard Tom Becker left midway through the first half with a wrist injury and did not return. He suffered a broken wrist and there is no timetable for his return.
Also for the Redhawks, Landish was taken off the court on a stretcher after falling and hitting his head with 6:33 to go in the game. He was diagnosed with a neck sprain and is expected to recover fully. The injury resulted in a 20-minute delay in play.
The Vikings took the momentum from Saturday’s game and brought it into Tuesday night’s home MWC opener against rival St. Norbert.
The Green Knights came into the game looking for redemption after a home loss to Beloit on Saturday. The Green Knights came out sharp, and just as had happened Saturday the Vikings quickly found themselves behind, this time 7-0.
Aaron Faulkner hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions for the Green Knights, and while the Vikings were coming back they were still down 17-9 at this point.
The Vikings would cut the lead to two at 17-15, as Braier had another amazing game in the blocks for the Vikings. The freshman would end up with eight points and ten rebounds for the game.
As the half closed, St. Norbert went on another spurt, but the Vikings closed the gap toward halftime. Tony Olsen had a huge three-point play for the Vikings with 33 seconds left in the first half, and the Vikings only trailed 29-24 at halftime.
The Vikings had 10 turnovers in the first half against the Green Knights, the same number they had in the entire game against Ripon. Neither team was shooting well; both around 45 percent. First Team All-MWC forward Kari Hannula had 11 points at halftime for the Green Knights, but would be held to only four points in the second half.
The Vikings and Green Knights played evenly for the beginning of the second half. The major turning point of the game occurred with 15:55 left.
Falls was called for an intentional foul for the Vikings, which was a questionable call. The LU crowd became even more rowdy than they had been, and brought the momentum back on the Vikings side.
The Vikings had several great defensive possessions and went on a 12-4 run to tie the game on two Chris MacGillis free throws. A minute later MacGillis added two more free throws and gave the Vikings their first lead of the game with 9:18 to go. While St. Norbert would tie the game three more times, they would never regain the lead.
The Vikings student section remained harsh on the Green Knights. The fans chanted Christmas carols as the Green Knights were shooting free throws, and chanted Grandpa every time the 25-year-old Hannula touched the ball.
The Green Knights stayed close, always only a possession away until Kyle MacGillis made one of his three steals and a lay-up to put the Vikings up by 5 with a minute to go. MacGillis had three steals in the game, adding to his MWC leading total of 2.9 per game.
The last 30 seconds were the most interesting. After a rebound, the Green Knights came down court and Faulkner hit his third try of the game to put the Green Knights within two.
After a steal and a time out, St. Norbert had the ball with 10.3 seconds to go and a chance to tie or take the lead. They passed the ball around and as Phil Leiterman was trying to find Hannula, Brendan Falls stole the ball for the Vikings. He hit one of two free throws and the Vikings pulled out a 57-54 win.
Vikings coach John Tharp was pleased with the way his team played in the second half:
“We stayed aggressive and played great half court defense. It was our first close game, and we stayed aggressive and played great defense down the stretch when we needed to. We got a great game out of Falls and Kyle MacGillis.”
Falls said he knew where the ball was going on the last second steal. “It wasn’t even my man,” he said. “I just knew by instinct where the ball was going and got in the way.”
The Vikings had a balanced scoring attack with no one in double figures but with five players with either eight or nine points.
The Vikings continue their MWC schedule this weekend with a game tonight against Illinois College and tomorrow afternoon against Lake Forest.