The Lawrence University Men’s basketball team continues to soar toward a Midwest Conference championship after sweeping two Illinois teams this weekend and defeating rival Ripon Tuesday night. The Vikings defeated Knox 80-70, Monmouth 86-56, and Ripon 78-72.Friday night against Knox the Vikings showed their supremacy over the Prairie Fire. While the score may look close, it actually was not a close game. The Vikings easily led at the half 36-23, and cruised in the second half as well.
The lead got cut to seven points as John Tharp played the end of his bench for the rest of the half, but the Vikings were never in danger of losing the game.
The Vikings had four players in double figures, and were led by Chris Braier. The freshman phenom had 16 points and also had 10 rebounds for another double double.
Jason Hollinbeck had a great game for the Vikings, scoring 18 points. Rob Nenahlo had 15 points, in what would be a warm up for the Ripon game for him, and Chris MacGillis rounded out the Vikings in double figures with 11.
If Friday’s game was too close for you, then Saturday was more like it for Viking fans. The Vikings had defeated the Scots by 35 the week before, and the Scots were trying to avenge that loss. It didn’t happen.
The Vikings got on top early, and rolled in the second half as they cruised to a 30-point victory.
The closest Monmouth ever got was 16-12, and then the Vikings just put them away. By the half Lawrence had jumped out to a 47-23 lead. It just got worse for the Scots from there.
The Vikings went on a 25-10 run to begin the half, and they achieved their biggest lead of 39 points with a score of 72-33. The end of the Viking bench saw the most action they have seen all year, and the Vikings ran away with an 86-56 victory. It was the second largest win the Vikings have ever achieved over the Scots, with only the game the week before being larger.
The Vikings only had three people in double figures, as most of the starters and role players did not play much in the second half. Quentin Herring had his best game as a Viking, scoring 14 points. Braier added 13 of his own along with nine boards in only 16 minutes on the floor. Hollinbeck rounded out his weekend with 10.
So that set up the crown jewel of the season: the Vikings hosting rival Ripon. The Redhawks still remembered the crushing 79-64 defeat the Vikings put on them at Ripon on Jan. 11. It would end up being a back and forth battle, but the Vikings would prevail in the end.
The first half was a seesaw battle between two of the better teams in the MWC. Each team jumped out to a six-point lead at one time during the first half, but no one could hold the advantage.
Scott Landish led the Redhawks. He had 15 points at the half for Ripon, but the Vikings had shut everyone else down. The Vikings had spread the ball around as is their typical fashion, no one player dominating the way Landish was. At the half Ripon clung to a one point lead, 34-33.
The Vikings came out and set the tone immediately, as the first shot of the second half was a Nenahlo three pointer. The Vikings parlayed that into a 9-0 run to start the half, but they knew that wouldn’t be enough against the potent Redhawk offense.
Ripon would come back, and did. With 12 minutes, Josh Glocke hit a three pointer to tie the game at 48. It was only the beginning of the Ripon onslaught. The Redhawks continued to outplay the Vikings over a six-minute stretch, and with 8:18 left Ripon had its biggest lead of the second half at 58-53.
John Tharp took a time out and gathered his Vikings around to try and stop the Redhawks. Whatever Tharp said in that huddle worked, because the Vikings came out playing like they had against Ripon in the first game.
The Vikings stormed back to tie the game at 60, and when Chris MacGillis hit a beautiful spinning lay-up in the lane to put the Vikings ahead 62-60, they wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
The Redhawks would continue to pressure the ball and hit three pointers down the stretch, but the Vikings hit 13 of 14 free throws in the last two minutes to hang on and sweep the Redhawks for the first time since the 1982-83 season.
The Vikings were led on the floor by junior guard Nenahlo. He scored 21 points for the Vikings and connected on 11 of 12 free throws in the game.
Brendan Falls had 17 points, including going six for six on free throws in the game.
Braier was huge on the boards as he outdid his point total by two. He had 15 points and an amazing 17 rebounds.
With the win the Vikings remain on pace to win their first MWC Title since 1996-97. The Vikings are in first place with a game and a half lead on Grinnell.
The Vikings will be down in Illinois this weekend taking on Lake Forest and Illinois College.
Another game the Vikings will be watching closely takes place Saturday afternoon.
Grinnell will be hosting Ripon in a game that could determine who will be fighting the Vikings for the top spot over the last two weeks of the season.
Game time for the Vikings is 7:30 p.m. at Lake Forest Friday and 4:00 p.m. at Illinois College on Saturday.