UW-Whitewater men headed back to DIII national title game - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UW-Whitewater men headed back to DIII national title game

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SALEM, VA -- One more game.  Powered by a career high 30 points from junior forward KJ Evans (Beloit/Beloit Memorial), 20 of those when UW-W took the lead in the second half, propelled UW-Whitewater to the championship game of the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament with a 71-63 win over Illinois Wesleyan University Friday evening at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Virginia.  UW-W, 28-4, will face Amherst College or Williams College, the participants in Friday's other semifinal, in the Division III championship game Saturday at 4:30 Central in Salem.

There wasn't much to separate the Warhawks and Titans in the first hafl.  Whitewater's KJ Evans (Beloit/Beloit Memorial) opened the scoring with a pair of free throws at 18:27.  Andrew Ziemnick of IWU tied it with a driving layin, and Titan Victor Davis followed with a three to put IWU in front 5-2.  Whitewater's Alex Merg (Greendale/Greendale) nailed a three from left of key to tie the game at 5-5 and the pattern was set.  Mike Marietti's layin at 13:29 gave Illinois Wesleyan its largest lead of the half, 14-7, but a 6-0 Whitewater run that ended with a Quardell Young (Kenosha/Bradford) free throw line jumper with 10:59 left pulled UW-W within one, 13-14.  Whitewater regained the lead at 9:17 on Steve Egan (Omro/Omro)'s rebound put back that made the score 17-16.  Marietti's jumper put the Titans back in front 18-17 at 8:34, but Reggie Hearn (Milwaukee/Marshall) made one of two free throws for the Warhawks to knot the score at 18-18.  The team tied again at 20, and 22, then with 2:50 on the clock Cody Odegaard(Poynette/Poynette) drilled a three from left of the key to put UW-W up 25-22.  Typical of the first twenty minutes, Wesleyan's Bryce Dolan deadlocked the contest again at 2:21 with a three pointer from the left baseline on an inbounds play.  Evans' layin for Whitewater and a pair of Pat Sodemann free throws for IWU produced another tie, 27-27.  Dylan Overstreet hit a short jumper for a 29-27 Titan lead with 0:54 remaining, and Steve Egan (Omro/Omro) closed the scoring with a free throw with four ticks left to pull Whitewater within one, 29-27, at intermission.

The halftime statistics mirrored the play, with little to separate the teams.  Whitewater shot 44% from the floor, Illinois Wesleyan 39%.  UW-W was 2-6 from beyond the arc, IWU 3-10.  Both teams went 4-8 from the line.  Evans was the leading scorer with ten points.  Marietti topped the Titans with eight points.

Prophetically, Evans scored the first basket of the second half, giving UW-W a lead it would never relinquish.  Merg, one of the holdovers from the 2012 championship team hit a pair of free throws at 18:07, followed by a three pointer from the left angle that put UW-W in front 39-33 with 17:19 left.

Fate almost intervened, as senior center Reggie Hearn (Milwaukee/Marshall) picked up his fourth foul and his backup, Steve Egan (Omro/Omro), hurt his shoulder within a thirty second span with more than 16:00 left.

IWU pulled within two, 41-39, on Jordan Nelson's free throw with 13:58 on the clock --- and then Evans went off.  The Beloit Memorial product scored seven points in a 10-0 Whitewater run that pushed the Warhawk bulge to 51-39 at 10:49.  Odegaard, another of the holdovers from 2012, contributed a three pointer in that run.

Odegaard's layin, off an Alex Merg (Greendale/Greendale), one more of the 2012 veterans gave UW-W its largest lead of the game, 55-40 at 9:42.

The Titan defense clamped down, with IWU fashioning a 7-0 run,  part of an 11-1 streak that tightened the difference to 62-59 with 2:26 in the game.  Eight of Whitewater's last ten points in the last eight minutes of the game came at the free throw line.  Facing that shrinking lead, Evans hit two free throws with 2:00 left to make it 64-59.  That was followed by Eric Bryson (Elkhorn/Elkhorn)'s (one more 2012 returnee) layin off a length of the court touchdown pass from Hearn for a 66-59 lead.  Young, another of the Warhawks with championship experience, made a free throw with 1:09 left for a 67-661 lead, and Evans made it 68-61 with a charity toss at 0:53.  Senior forward Eric Bryson (Elkhorn/Elkhorn) (yes, a 2012 champion) grabbed two crucial rebounds, and made a pair of free throws, in the final 0:31 to seal the win.

Whitewater's defense limited the Titans to 31% (9-29) shooting in the second half.  Included in that mark, IWU went 5-23 (22%) from three point range.  The Warhawks shot 48% on field goals and 50% (5-10) from beyond the arc.  Both teams made 18 free throws, with IWU having one more attempt.

Evans, whose previous career high of 27 came in the sectional final against Emory, hit 10-19 from the floor and 9-10 from the line.  Merg and Bryson chipped in with ten points each, with Bryson and Hearn collecting nine boards apiece.  Young topped both teams with six assists.  Senior forward Andrew Ziemnick led IWU with 13 points, with senior center Victor Davis chipping in with ten points and a team high eight rebounds.  Junior guard Pat Sodemann was also in double figures with ten points.

UW-Whitewater will be looking for the school's fourth men's basketball championship.  UW-W won NCAA III titles in 1984, 1989 and two years ago.  Five members of that 2012 team will be looking for their second title.

Illinois Wesleyan College, the 1997 NCAA III champions, end the season 27-5.

Williams enters Friday semifinal with a 27-4 record.  Amherst College, 27-3, won the NCAA III title last year.  Amherst and Whitewater will be both be seeking their fourth NCAA men's basketball crown.

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