The Gustavus men’s basketball team outscored Saint John’s 8-0 in the last 3:43 to pull out a 71-68 come-from-behind victory in the first round of the MIAC playoffs on Monday night in Collegeville. The Gustie offense hit 57.1 percent of its shots from the floor, but it was the defense down the stretch that proved to be the difference in the contest. Gustavus, which improved to 13-13 overall, earned the right to face St. Thomas in the semifinal round on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in St. Paul.
Gustavus held onto a slim lead throughout the first half until Robert Schmidt and Jesse Van Sickle hit three-point baskets as part of an 8-1 run to put the Gusties ahead 26-16 with 7:57 remaining in the opening frame. The Johnnies answered back when they outscored Gustavus 13-2 over the next four minutes to grab their first lead of the contest at 29-28. Both squads traded baskets until a layup by Paulson in the final minute and a three-pointer by Dan Schmidtknecht at the buzzer gave the Gusties a 38-33 lead at halftime.
Gustavus battled to stay ahead of Saint John’s in the second half, but the Johnnies put together a 9-2 stretch that was capped off by an Andy Burns three-pointer to grab a 63-56 lead with 5:53 left on the clock.
Saint John’s clung to a five-point advantage at 68-63 before Schmidtknecht and Van Sickle hit consecutive baskets to pull the Gusties to within one point at 68-67 with 1:36 remaining in the game. Both teams missed shots on ensuing possession when Paulson hauled in a defensive rebound with 00:43 on the clock.
After a 30-second Gustavus timeout, Ryan McPartland scored the go-ahead layup to help the Gusties regain a 69-68 lead. The Johnnies came down the floor, got a shot off, but Schmidtknecht pulled down a key defensive rebound. Saint John’s committed two fouls before sending Gustavus to the foul line where Robert Schmidt nailed a pair of free throws. The Johnnies had one last attempt to tie the game, but Andrew Latzke’s three-pointer was off the mark as the Gusties posted the 71-68 road win.
Robert Schmidt and Sam Paulson led Gustavus with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Four other players contributed at least eight points in the win as the Gustie bench outscored the Saint John’s bench 21-10. The Johnnies were paced by Aaron Burtzel, who recorded 21 points and eight rebounds. Both teams shot well from the floor as Gustavus was 28-for-49 shooting at 57.1 percent and Saint John’s was 25-for-50 shooting at 50 percent.
Gustavus will now face St. Thomas in the MIAC semifinals on Wednesday night at Schoenecker Arena in St. Paul at 7:30 p.m. Saint John’s finished the season at 14-12 as Jim Smith was denied the 700th win of his career.