After a sluggish first half that saw the Gustavus men’s basketball team trail St. Olaf 35-29 at the intermission, Gustie senior guard Phil Wirtjes exploded for 22 points in the second half to help Gustavus rally for a 74-66 win over the Oles. The Gusties improved to 5-2 overall and 3-0 in the MIAC, while St. Olaf fell to 6-1 overall and 1-1 in the MIAC.
Wirtjes, who scored four points in the first half and 22 in the second half, thought the team struggled in the first half. He stated, “We take pride in what we do on defense and in the first half I don’t think that showed. We came out flat and let them dictate the pace, so in the second half we came out and controlled the game a little more.”
Gustavus head coach Mark Hanson was disappointed in the slow start, but pleased that the team battled back. Hanson stated, “We did not get so down on ourselves for the things that were going wrong early, that it affected our ability to make good plays down the stretch and win the game.” He added, “Fortunately, we made our free throws and came up with some key stops when the game was on the line and found a way to win.”
St. Olaf executed very well offensively in the first half and the result was a 57.6 shooting percentage as the Oles made 15-of-26 from the field. Senior guard Tucker Sheley led the charge with 15 first half points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field including 2-of-3 from behind the arc. The Oles did leave some points on the floor, however as they made only 2-of-7 from the free throw line. Sheley and the Oles headed to the locker room with a 35-29 lead at halftime.
In the second half, St. Olaf scored the first four points to extend its lead to 10 points at 39-29, however Gustavus responded with an 12-4 run that cut the lead to two points at 43-41 with 14:55 left to play. The Oles managed to maintain their slim lead until the 2:54 mark when a three-point basket by Phil Wirtjes gave the Gusties their first lead (61-59) since the first two minutes of the game (4-2). Bobby Fong drained a three-point basket the next time down the floor to give the Oles a 62-61 lead, however that is the last time St. Olaf would lead as Gustavus went on to out-score the Oles 13-4 in the final two minutes allowing the Gusties to claim the 74-66 victory. The loss was the first of the season for St. Olaf, which entered the contest with a 6-0 record.
Free throws turned out to be a key in the contest as the Gusties were a perfect 13-of-13 from the line, while the Oles could only manage to make 6-of-16 from the charity stripe.
Senior guards Phil Wirtjes and Dan Schmidtknecht carried the load for Gustavus as Wirtjes contributed 26 points including 8-of-8 from the free throw line and Schmidtknecht added 10 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds. Tucker Sheley led St. Olaf with 25 points.
Gustavus travels to St. Paul to face Macalester on Wednesday at 7:30 pm, while St. Olaf returns home to host St. Thomas on Wednesday.