Thunder Rains On Edgewood's NCAA Tournament Parade
Courtesy of Edgewood College
RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- No one can fault effort and no one can fault lack of desire, but the Edgewood College men's basketball team's trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament came to an end all the same. Wheaton College (Ill.), ranked 24th in the nation, shot 63.6 percent from the field and withstood a frantic Eagles' comeback for a 73-62 victory over Edgewood College in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles end their season with an NCAA-era school record 23 victories and the first NCAA Tournament victory in program history.
The first half had all the earmarks of a fantastic postseason game, with six ties and eight lead changes. Wheaton College (23-6) scored nine straight points to take a 23-15 lead with nine minutes to go in the first half. Edgewood College (23-7) rallied with a back-to-back layups by Ben Wisniewski and a soaring lay-in by Derek Nkemnji. Kent Faurote and Joe Klocek added baskets to complete a 13-0 run and the Eagles had their largest lead of the game at 28-23. However, Wheaton's Tyler Peter hit a three-pointer and a layup to tie the game at 28.
The Thunder opened the second half with a three-pointer by Aaron Garriott and began to build a lead. Wheaton was ahead by seven when Cashton Craig nailed a three-pointer from the left corner to bring the Eagles back within 39-35. However, Wheaton would make a decisive run, hitting their next seven consecutive shots on a 23-7 spurt to take a commanding 62-45 lead with 6:24 left to play.
Edgewood College then mounted a thrilling comeback, which started off the Eagles' full court press. Nkemnji back-tipped the ball from a Wheaton dribbler to Michael Janusek, who returned it to Nkemnji for a huge slam dunk. Soon after, the Eagles benefited from some shaky Wheaton College free throw shooting and ball handling to launch a 12-0 run. Jake Guziewski had two field goals and a steal in the stretch and Faurote added four three throws to bring the Eagles to 65-61 with 1:30 to go.
The Eagles continued to apply the pressure, but had little choice other than to foul and extend the game. This time around the Thunder didn't miss at the line. Wheaton College sunk eight of 10 free throws in the final 90 seconds to earn the victory.
Wisniewski led the Eagles in scoring with 16 points, with fellow senior Faurote right behind with 15 points. The two seniors finish their career ranked second and seventh, respectively on the Eagles all-time scoring list. Wisniewski wraps his career as the Northern Athletics Conference's all-time scorer with 1,719 points and Faurote caps his four-year run with 1,463 points. Both players posted the highest single season of their careers in 2011-12.
Nkemnji also finished his career with a double-digit game, scoring 10 points and handing out a team-high five assists. Nkemnji is tied for ninth all-time in Edgewood College history with 311 career assists. Another senior Guziewski finished with eight points and a team-high three steals. The fifth senior on the team Greg Chase, also appeared in the final game of his career.
Wheaton College was led by Tim McCrary's 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting and a team-high nine rebounds. Garriott added 16 points and seven assists. The Thunder shot a remarkable 78.9 percent (15-for-19) in the second half, including 11-for-12 from inside the three-point arc.
Edgewood College closes the 2011-12 season with a 23-7 and seven record, marking the second highest win total in school history and, at .767, the highest winning percentage since 1976-77 team went 17-3. Edgewood College claimed their first ever NAC championship and first ever NCAA Tournament win by a NAC school in history.