The Gustavus men’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the fifth consecutive season after beating Saint Thomas 68-58 in the MIAC Championship game in St. Peter Saturday night. The Gusties finished the final 3:06 on a 15-5 run to solidify the victory. Doug Espenson led Gustavus with 30 points and 10 rebounds, while Adam TeBrake tallied 20 points and seven boards. Isaac Rosefelt led the Tommies with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Gustavus enters the NCAA Division III Tournament with an overall record of 22-5, extending its current win streak to 18 games, while Saint Thomas ended its season with an overall record of 17-9.
Saint Thomas led 6-2 with 17:41 to play in the first half before Gustavus’ Doug Espenson hit two three-point shots to even the score 8-8 with 15:40 to play. Both teams scored nine points to even the score at 17-17 with 8:34 to play. However, the Gusties ended the final eight minutes on a 15-4 run to take their largest lead of the first half at 32-21 heading into the lockerroom.
The Tommies opened the second half on a 4-0 run to pull within 32-25 before Doug Espenson hit a lay-up to boost the Gusties lead back to 34-25 with 18:18 left in regulation. The Tommies pulled within 36-32 with 16:26 to play before Gustavus countered with an 11-0 run to lead by a game-high 15 points at 47-32 with 13:44 remaining. The Tommies responded with a gritty 21-6 rally to even the score at 53-53 with 3:06 to play. But, the Golden Gusties finished the final 3:06 on a 15-5 rally to win 68-58 and advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 12th time since 1987.
The Gusties shot 41.4 percent (24-58) from the field, 50 percent (8-16) from behind the arc, and an outstanding 92.3 percent (12-13) from the free throw line, including 8-8 in the second half. The Tommies shot 43.1 percent (22-51) from the field, 26.7 percent (4-15) from the three-point line, and 66.7 percent (10-15) from the charity stripe. Gustavus held an edge in rebounds 40-28.
Doug Espenson (30) and Adam TeBrake (20) combined for 50 of Gustavus’ 68 points. Espenson also added 10 rebounds, while TeBrake tallied seven boards. Trent Hollerich posted nine boards, while Trevor Wittwer posted eight points. Isaac Rosefelt led the Tommies with 13 points, 16 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Joey Shimek added 14 points and Bryan Schnettler tacked on 10 points.
Trevor Wittwer scored Gustavus’ final six points in their 10-point victory over the Tommies. With the game tied at 53-53, Wittwer said he was thinking, “We’ve got to make stops and run our offense effectively. It all starts at the defensive end. We started creating turnovers, and those takeaways propelled our offense. We had been in control all game so we just had to step up and handle Saint Thomas’ rally toward the end. It’s not always the run you give up, but it boils down to how effectively you handle that type of adversity. We stepped up and handled the pressure which resulted in a win.”
Gustavus claimed its third consecutive MIAC Playoff title and ninth in the 21-year history of the MIAC Post-season tournament (four more than second place St. Thomas and St. John’s). The Gusties and Tommies have now met in the MIAC Playoff Championship game five times with Gustavus winning all five games.
The NCAA will announce its 48-team championship field at 9:30 pm central time on Sunday night. The tournament will begin on Thursday, March 3 with first round games. Second round games will be played on Saturday, March 5. Gustavus will be making its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 10 years and 12th in school history.