Three-peat: men win MWC tourney

Mouse Braun

A packed house at Alexander Gymnasium last weekend witnessed a display of heart and desire from their LU men’s basketball team.
In the semifinal match-up against Knox College, the Vikes went on a 16-3 run to end the first half en route to an 88-62 victory.
Then Carroll College gave Lawrence a run for their money on Saturday afternoon in the championship. The Pioneers led the home team by as many as 10 in the second half. The Vikes rallied, with great play by freshman Ryan Kroeger, to win the game 68-62 and clinch the right to represent the Midwest Conference in the Division III national tournament.
Facing a 12-point deficit late in the first half, seniors Chris Braier and Ben Klekamp nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to close the lead 32-26 at the break.
After the game, Braier stated, “Coach just told us that we have to go out there and play as a team. As players, we knew we had a mental advantage over Carroll after beating them twice this year.”
Down 40-30 early in the second half, Kroeger showed why LU has the only unblemished record in the nation. Lawrence went on a 12-2 run to tie the game thanks in large part to the back-to-back 3-pointers from the freshman guard.
The teams then traded baskets. With the game tied at 53, Kroeger and Braier both hit two free throws. Klekamp then hit a 3 to put the Vikes up by 7 with 2:37 to play.
Carroll narrowed the margin to 65-62 with 51 seconds left. Braier forced Jason Scheper to turn the ball over with 12 seconds left in the game. Ben Rosenblatt sealed the victory, hitting both his free throws after being fouled.
All-American Braier scored 14 points and grabbed 8 boards against Knox. He followed that performance with a 21-point and 12-rebound effort against Carroll. He played all 40 minutes in the championship on an injured groin.
Off the bench, Kroeger had an 18-point output against Knox and a 14-point effort against Carroll. Klekamp scored 8 of his 11 points in the final 6:41 of the game against Carroll.
Braier’s play this year earned him a First Team All-Conference award. He was also named Conference Player of the Year. Coach Tharp’s success has earned him Midwest Conference Coach of the Year honors. Senior Kyle MacGillis also earned First Team honors, while senior Keven Bradley was named to the Honorable Mention list.
Carroll now has a record of 21-4. Three of their losses have come at the hands of LU. Their impressive season earned them a berth in the Division III national tournament. Carroll will face Illinois Wesleyan at UW-Whitewater Friday evening, with the winner moving on to face either Whitewater or DePauw.
Saturday night, Lawrence will host the winner of North Central and St. Thomas. The winner of that game, played at St. Thomas Thursday night, was not known at press time.
St. Thomas enters the tournament with a 22-5 record. Three of their five losses have come at the hands of UW-Stout, Carleton and UW-Lacrosse — all teams that have made the tournament.
North Central College also enters the tourney with a record of 22-5. They have lost to Illinois Wesleyan and Augustana, both teams that have been invited to the national tournament.