The Gustavus men’s basketball team dug themselves a big hole in the first half, but came all the way and back and claimed a thrilling 70-68 victory in St. Peter on Monday night. Trevor Wittwer made a six-foot jumper with :20 left in regulation play to give Gustavus its first lead since the opening moments of the game and the Gusties held on for the win. The Johnnies Ryan Lieser led all scorers with 27 points, while Wittwer led the Gusties with 17. Gustavus improves to 15-4 overall and 11-3 in MIAC play.
The game got off to a fast start for the Gusties as they jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, but Saint John’s scored the next 11 points to take a six point lead at 11-5 at the 14:25 mark. The Johnnies would maintain their lead at four to six points over the next six minutes, but then a quick 9-2 spurt extended Saint John’s lead to 11 points at 30-19 with 5:22 remaining in the first half. A three-point basket by Brady Brink pushed the lead to 14 points at 38-24 with 1:56 on the clock. The Gusties closed out the half with a traditional three-point play by Mike DesLauriers on a basket and a free throw and the Johnnies held a 38-27 lead at the intermission. Saint John’s shot 51.6 percent from the field (16-31) in the first 20 minutes, while Gustavus shot a cool 38.7 percent (12-31). Lieser had 15 and Brady Brink had 13 to lead the Johnnies. Kane Sivesind led Gustavus with seven points. Saint John’s outrebounded the Gusties 21 to 13.
While the first half was controlled by the Johnnies, it would be the Gusties who would control play in the second half. Gustavus raised the intensity of its defensive effort after the break and the result was a 12 to 4 run that cut the lead to three at 42-39 with 14:55 left to play. Saint John’s countered with a quick 5-0 run that pushed the lead back to eight at 47-39. The Gusties slowly chipped away at the Johnnie lead and got back to within four at 57-53 on a steal and a dunk by Trevor Wittwer at the 8:24 mark. Saint John’s would not allow the Gusties to get any closer than four for the next four minutes, but a missed free throw by Chris Schwartz and two free throws by Trevor Wittwer shortly after that finally brought the Gusties to within two points at 63-61 with 4:34 left to play. The two squads battled back and forth in a game that had the intensity of a playoff contest and the Johnnies were determined to not relinquish their hard earned lead.
Gustavus cut the lead to two again at 68-66 with 1:46 on the clock and the Johnnies called a timeout. After the timeout, Gustavus used a half-court trap that led to a steal by Kane Sivesind who charged towards the Gustie basket for the tying lay-up. Sivesind was fouled as he went up for the lay-up and consequently made two free throws to tie the score at 68-68 with 1:25 on the clock. After another timeout by Saint John’s, Brady Brink got loose for a three-point shot, but missed and the rebound was taken down by Jesse Van Sickle. The Gusties patiently ran their motion offense and worked the ball into Trevor Wittwer, who banked in a six-foot jump shot from the middle of the lane with :02 left on the shot clock giving Gustavus a 70-68 lead. It was the first lead for the Gusties since the 17:32 mark of the first half and there were :20 seconds left in the game. Saint John’s calmly brought the ball down the floor and worked the ball to Ryan Lieser for a three-point shot with :07 left, which he missed but Aaron Burtzel grabbed the rebound and missed the putback with :04 left. Wittwer grabbed the rebound, but traveled as he was coming down to the floor and the Johnnies got the ball out of bounds under their own basket with :04 on the clock. After a timeout, Saint John’s ran an inbounds play that got the ball to Lieser who missed a jumper that was rebounded by Brink and Brink’s shot bounced away as the clock expired giving the Gusties an important come-from-behind victory 70-68.
The Gusties shot 58.6 percent from the field in the second half (17-29) compared to 40.0 percent for the Johnnies (10-25). Gustavus also forced nine Johnnie turnovers in the final 20 minutes, while committing only two. Saint John’s Ryan Lieser led all scorers with 27 points, while teammate Brady Brink dropped in 25. The Gusties placed four players in double figures including Wittwer with 17, Sam Paulson with 15, Mike DesLauriers with 12, and Sivesind with 11. Paulson was 7-of-12 from the field in arguably the finest game of his young career, while DesLauriers was 5-of-5 from the field including 1-of-1 from behind the arc and 1-of-1 from the free throw line.
Gustavus swept the series from Saint John’s this season after the Johnnies took two in the regular season from the Gusties last year. With the win, Gustavus remains alone in second place in the MIAC with a record of 11-3, while the Johnnies fall into a tie for fifth place at 8-7.
The Gusties will travel to Winona to face Saint Mary’s on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm.