Statesmen Blow by St. Thomas (Fla.) 106-83 for Quarterfinal Berth
Point Lookout, Mo.–‘Ugly’ and ‘tournament win’ are rarely terms that are seen together, but after playing in one of the best games in school history in the opening round, the William Penn men’s basketball team settled for an ugly tournament win in defeating #11 seed St. Thomas (Fla.) in the second round of the NAIA Division II National Championships Friday.
Behind a 42-point performance by Alec Schwab (Jr., Peru, Ill., Business Management), the 27th-seeded Statesmen (24-9) improbably advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals for the second year in a row. WPU will now meet up with #19 seed Robert Morris (Ill.) (25-9), which upset #3 Indiana-Southeast 71-66 Friday. The game is set to tip at 7 p.m. in Keeter Gymnasium.
In a tourney that featured few early upsets, the lower seeds dominated on Saturday by winning six of the eight contests. Only three of the highest ten seeds remain as the other three quarterfinal matchups will include #9 Davenport (Mich.) vs. #17 Southeastern (Fla.), #5 Indiana Wesleyan vs. #20 Friends (Kan.), and #10 Midland (Neb.) vs. #18 Bethel (Ind.).
Despite starting after 10 p.m. yet again, the night owl Statesmen could not have had a better start, hitting its first three three-pointers of the night to sprint out to a 9-3 advantage. The Bobcats answered the first trifecta for a 3-3 tie, but were never ahead during the evening. The hot beginning continued as WPU went up by double digits at 21-11 just 5:01 into the game.
STU battled back to within four at 27-23 and stayed close at 34-29. Fortunately, the long ball was William Penn’s ally, especially in the first half (13-for-22 first half, 16-for-30 overall) as a trio of shots were again made in succession and the lowest remaining seed in the championships owned a commanding 52-35 intermission lead.
Maybe it was the fact their first-stanza triumphs came so easily or that Thursday’s double-OT thriller finally caught up to them, but the Statesmen went ice-cold from the field in the first few minutes of the second half. That allowed the Bobcats to narrow the margin to ten just 1:32 into the second period.
WPU did finally find the netting a few times to get back up by 13, but St. Thomas, assisted by both mediocre free-throw shooting and poor ball protection by William Penn, got the margin down to six at 64-58 with 10:54 still on the clock.
A hot stretch of six-consecutive charity tosses reignited William Penn, and just like that the advantage ballooned to 16 at 77-61 with 8:10 remaining. STU had one final gasp for air, getting its deficit to nine (84-75, 5:10 left), but ten unanswered by WPU made sure the Bobcats never threatened in the waning minutes.
“This amazing ride continues!” Assistant Coach Blake Sandquist said. “The resiliency of this team is unreal.”
For the second-straight matchup, the Statesmen gave up loads of inches to their foes, which led to STU tallying 20 offensive rebounds (both teams had 45 boards).
The William Penn coaching was well aware it would not be able to go into the blocks possession after possession, but still managed to draw a plethora of fouls on the physical Bobcats. STU was called for 36 fouls, leading to WPU stepping to the line 50 times. William Penn had its issues at the stripe, but still put 30 on the board with the clock stopped. Schwab was again the leader of the complimentary efforts, going 13-for-14. The junior, who became just the second player in program history to score 40 points three times in his career (all since the start of February), was 11-for-20 from the field (7-for-12 3-PT).
Schwab’s point total tied for the fifth-highest mark in Championships history.
Kelly Madison (Jr., Des Moines, Iowa, Physical Education), who poured in 38 in the first round, added 24 more on Friday (5-for-8 FG, 4-for-6 3-PT), but found the 15-footers daunting with a 10-for-17 FT showing. The junior added three steals as well.
William Penn dominated the shooting category 56.6%-36.6% to overcome its rough free-throw shooting and the 23 turnovers it committed.
Erik McGee (Jr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Elementary Education) was also in double figures with 11 points in addition to a team-best eight rebounds. Tyler Stahle (So., Bountiful, Utah, Business Management) led the bench crew with nine, while Roberts Baltruns (So., Riga, Latvia, Business Management) and Logan Alexander (So., Eddyville, Iowa, Undecided) contributed six apiece.
Blake Walker (Sr., Rose Garden, Physical Education) could not locate his shooting stroke to finish with only two points, but made his presence felt in other ways with seven rebounds and eight assists.
Jesse Utt (Fr., Cowgill, Mo., Industrial Technology) and Mike Aldeman (Jr., Iowa City, Iowa, Education) gave solid minutes as well with three points each.
With 36 tries by St. Thomas, the squads combined for the most three-point attempts in a tournament game (66). The 27 made three-point shots tied for the second-most in tourney history, while WPU’s 16 successful tries also tied for second-most ever.