Feb. 28—The Northwestern College men's basketball team made history on Saturday night, advancing to the NCAA Tournament after beating the University of Minnesota, Morris 73–60 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Tournament championship. The Eagles used an all-around solid performance to lead by as much as 27 points before settling for a 13-point victory in front of a loud Ericksen Center crowd.
After Steve Birman put the Cougars up 3-2 with a three-pointer two minutes into the game, NWC took off and fast. Tom Gisler (Stewartville, Minn./Stewartville) responded with a three before Wade Chitwood (Grinnell, Iowa/Grinnell) followed right behind of a trey of his own. Jumpers from Josh Williams (Forest Lake, Minn./Forest Lake) and Lance Westberg (River Falls, Wis./River Falls) pushed the lead to 19-9 at the 11:54 mark. With just under five minutes to play in the half, Williams and Westberg hit two more shots to give the home team a 36-20 edge before Northwestern led 40-29 at the break.
Chitwood started the Eagles right where they left off to start the second period, nailing a three before Nate Thompson (Fergus Falls, Minn./Hillcrest Lutheran Academy) added a shot of his own from downtown. Williams, who scored a career high 10 points in the game, made good on a layup opportunity to boost Northwestern's lead to 59-39 with 12:29 still left to play. Gabe Jefferson's (Lincoln, Neb./Southeast) bucket in the paint at the 8:32 mark gave the Purple and Gold its biggest lead of the game at 27. Morris started crawling back, cutting the difference to 20 and then 15. Brendan Foss's layup with 1:40 to go brought the Cougars within 13, but that's as close as the No. 2 seed would get before time expired.
Northwestern made 27 of its 61 attempts for a 44.3 shooting percentage. But it was the Eagles' defense that made the difference; NWC held Morris to a 32 percent shooting mark while owning a 28-23 advantage in defensive rebounds. The Eagles tallied eight blocks in the game, three of which came from both Brian Lecheler (Abbotsford, Wis./Abbotsford) and Jefferson.
Chitwood was named the tournament's most valuable player, scoring 13 points after going 10-15 for 24 points against Martin Luther in Wednesday's semifinal game. Williams, Lecheler, and Gisler followed with 10 points apiece, while Jefferson posted 13 rebounds, six of which were offensive. Thompson and Westberg were each one point shy of double digits with nine.
Foss had 12 points and 12 rebounds to produce a double-double for Morris (15-12). Birman had a team-high 17 points, while Eric Dalbey followed with 11.
Eagles face St. Thomas on Friday, March 4
The Northwestern College men's basketball team won't have to travel far for its first NCAA Tournament game in the school's history as the Eagles will face the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Northwestern defeated the University of Minnesota, Morris 83-70 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Tournament championship to punch its ticket to the NCAA postseason for the first time. The Eagles, who boast a 21-6 overall record, won the UMAC regular season championship for the fourth time in the last five years. Northwestern, who has won 14 consecutive games, is 1-8 all-time against UST with the last meeting taking place in 2002.
St. Thomas is fresh off of winning its 10th Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) playoff title after beating Gustavus Adolphus College 83-77 on Sunday. The ninth-ranked Tommies shared the MIAC regular season trophy this season with Carleton and enter Friday's postseason contest with a 24-3 overall record.
If Northwestern beats St. Thomas in Friday's opening round, the Eagles will play either UW-River Falls or Illinois Wesleyan, who will play immediately before NWC and the Tommies, on Saturday evening.
Friday’s ticket prices and other information will be posted to nwceagles.com as soon as it becomes available.