Tourney hopes darken for men’s BB

Jared Padway and Greg Peterson

The Vikings won a huge game last Saturday against the Beloit Buccaneers 72-64 in order to keep their postseason hopes alive. This completed the Vikings’ regular-season sweep of the Bucs (9-13, 8-9 MWC), and moved the Vikings into a four-way tie for second place in the conference.

However, a loss against St. Norbert last Wednesday dropped Lawrence into a three-way tie for fifth place, leaving the Vikings’ chances of qualifying for the Feb. 25-26 Midwest Conference Tournament much slimmer than they had been before.

After trading baskets in the first half of the game against Beloit, the Vikings found themselves trailing 36-32 at the halftime break. In the second half of the game, the Vikings trailed by nine points with 17:24 remaining. This would be the largest deficit in this tightly contested fixture.

As time ticked away for the Vikings, they found themselves down six points with 9:58 remaining, before Jon Mays hit a huge three-pointer which started a 20-6 scoring run.

The Vikings ended up tying the game 53-53 after another Mays three-point attempt landed with 7:46 remaining.

Tyler Crisman then hit a jump shot with 6:56 remaining, giving the Vikings their first lead of the half. This Vikings’ lead would also hold over the remainder of the game, as the Bucs weren’t able to take the lead again for the rest of the contest.

The Vikings rode this momentum throughout the remainder of the contest and led by as much as 8 points with 1:29 remaining. Buccaneer guard Michael Horton drained a three-pointer to bring the contest within five; however, the Vikings went 7-10 from the line at the end of the game to finish off the home team.

Crisman put together a spectacular performance as he led the Vikings with a career-high 30 points and shot 59 percent from the field. Erik Borresen pitched in with another classic Borresen double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

With a chance to put themselves in the driver’s seat with regards to the conference tournament, the Vikings slipped up last Wednesday against Ripon, losing a 63-60 heartbreaker as the Red Hawks scored the final four points of the game.

The action was tense, with both teams fighting for a spot in the tournament and playing shutdown defense. Ripon (13-9, 11-6 MWC) shot only 37.7 percent over the course of the game, and Lawrence was barely better, posting a 39.7 percent mark.

With the score so close — there were 13 ties over the course of the game — neither team could afford to bench its starters for more than a moment’s rest. All five Vikings starters played at least 33 minutes, even with Borresen and Chris Siebert’s playing time limited by foul trouble, while Ripon’s Scott Gillespie played all 40 minutes of the game.

The Vikings took a 31-27 lead into the locker room and then quickly scored six more points on a Borresen “and-one” and a Crisman three-pointer. But despite sitting under a three-possession deficit for more than five minutes, the Red Hawks rallied and retied the game 47-47 with 9:21 left to play.

The final tie of the game, at 58-58 with 1:35 left, led to a final-minute see-saw ride ending after Ripon’s Brad Brooks grabbed a steal and a crucial defensive rebound in the last 40 seconds of play.

The final score stood at 63-60, leaving the Vikings’ postseason fate out of their hands despite another double-double from Borresen and a five-block effort from Conor Klusendorf.

The Vikings will return to action in their final game of the season at the conference-leading St. Norbert College Green Knights (17-5, 13-4 MWC). This crucial match-up will be the deciding factor on whether the Vikings will continue into postseason play, as, with the top four teams set to advance to the Midwest Conference Tournament, only St. Norbert has clinched a spot and six other teams stand within striking distance of tournament berths.

With St. Norbert alone in first, Grinnell, Illinois College and Ripon stand tied for second with identical 11-6 conference records, while Lawrence, Carroll and Lake Forest are locked in a three-way tie for fifth with 10-7 marks in conference play.

If the Vikings do beat the Green Knights, they will finish the season at 11-7, where they will be joined by as many as five or as few as no other teams. As Grinnell, Illinois College and Ripon are not playing each other, the Vikings will need help, as each team can secure its tourney berth with a win.

As the tiebreak situation remains incredibly murky, coach Joel DePagter’s squad will simply have to focus on beating St. Norbert in De Pere and hope that the rest of the results fall their way. Tipoff for the crucial game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday.