Men’s basketball hosts, clinches MWC tournament

Douglas McEneaney

Last Wednesday, the Vikings visited their rivals, the Red Hawks of Ripon College. At this stage in the season, the Vikings could not afford a loss to bottom-ranked Ripon College.
Despite the Red Hawks scoring first, the Vikings quickly jumped ahead with a 12-2 run in the opening minutes. Ripon battled back, cutting the Vikings’ eight point lead to a 1-point lead just minutes later. For the rest of the half, the Vikings maintained a small lead, closing the half 35-30 in their favor.
Much like the ending of the first half, the Vikings maintained a small lead for the first 16 minutes of the second half. It seemed, just as the Vikings began to pull away, the Red Hawks would lasso the Vikings close again. However, with a little over three minutes to play, the Vikings went on a short 8-0 run, extending their lead to 11 points. Normally, this is enough for our Vikings and one could say that the “W” is in the bag. The resilient Red Hawks had something else in mind. With a few clutch shots from Ripon’s Chris Kellett and Scott Gillespie, the game was still in reach. The Red Hawks had a chance to tie with seven seconds to play but stellar defense and a clutch steal by senior Tommy Schmidt sealed the victory for the Vikings. The Vikings won 87-83.
The Vikings have won 14 of their last 15 games and maintained a rank of 22 in the nation, according to D3hoops.com. Despite getting out-shot by Ripon, the Vikings still shot nearly 50% from the field, including 58% in the second half. Five Vikings scored in the double digits. Junior Chris Page went 11-14 from the field and scored a game high of 24 points. Senior Andy Hurley recorded another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. With the win against Ripon, the Vikings men’s basketball team clinched a playoff berth.
This past Saturday, the Vikings faced Beloit College at home, a team who in past years has always been a force in the conference. This year however, Beloit College ranks last in conference. The Vikings, going into Saturday, were two games ahead of second Carroll (ranked second place) with three games remaining on the schedule. A loss to Beloit with a win by Carroll would bring the two teams within one game. A win against Beloit and a loss by Carroll would clinch our boys’ home court advantage and a Midwest Conference Champion status.
From the first blow of the whistle, our Vikings showed all 843 in attendance that they are the best team in the MWC. From junior Ryan Kroeger’s lay-up in the opening seconds of the game, to the final buzz of the clock, the Vikings had a lead against the Bucs. Within the first ten minutes of the game, the Vikings jumped to a double-digit lead, which seemed too much for the Bucs to handle. The Vikings shot over 50 percent from the field in the first half, including 5-12 from three-point range. As the half closed, the Vikings led 43-22.
The second half was much the same as the first half. The Vikings shot well enough to maintain a significant lead while the Bucs struggled offensively. All year the Vikings have been noted as a strong offensive team with great shooters and playmakers, however, this game was won mainly off of great defensive efforts. The Vikings only allowed 17 field goals over the course of the game. The Viking lead was never less than 16 points in the second half and their largest lead was 28 points. The final score was 72-48 in favor of the Vikings.
The Vikings played sixteen players over the course of the game, which seems to be characteristic of many of the games this year for the Vikings. Kroeger led all scorers with 15 points and Page recorded another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Junior playmaker Doug Kadison led all with eight assists.
After the game, the news spread like wild fire that the Green Knights of St. Norbert College defeated Carroll College, clinching the Vikings spot as the top seeded team in conference and their fourth Midwest Conference Championship in the past five years. Alexander Gym will host the Midwest Conference tournament again this year, with the winner of the four-team tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Vikings still retain their Top 25 status, ranking 22nd by D3hoops.com.

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