The Gustavus men’s basketball team continued its “Cinderella” run through the MIAC Playoffs with a 70-64 upset of #1 seed Carleton on the Knights home floor in Northfield on Friday evening. Coach Mark Hanson’s squad will now play St. Thomas in St. Paul on Sunday at 2:00 pm in the MIAC Playoff Championship game. The winner will receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Gusties, who are seeded #5 in the MIAC Post-Season Tournament, began tournament play with a 90-71 win over #4 St. Olaf in Northfield on Wednesday night. Gustavus, which stumbled down the stretch losing six straight games in late January and early February, has re-gained its mid-season form and won three straight over the past week.
Carleton got off to a fast start against Gustavus and looked like it was going to run away from the Gusties in the early going. The Knights led 13-6 at the 13:32 mark and 20-10 at the 9:27 mark. Carleton maintained its double-digit lead at 27-17 with 6:30 left to play in the first half. Gustavus, however would slow the Knights down in the final six minutes as the Gusties outscored Carleton 17-6 the rest of the half and led 34-33 at the break. Adam Michel’s tip-in with 01 second left on the clock gave the Gusties the lead for the first time since 4-2 in the first minute of the game.
Carter Biewen’s layup off a Jeremy Sutherland steal in the first 30 seconds of the second half put the Knights in the lead at 35-34, but that is the last lead Carleton would hold in the contest. The Gusties would go on a 8-0 lead on four straight layups over the next four minutes to take a seven-point lead at 42-35 with 16:25 left to play. Another Bobby Johnson layup at the 9:52 mark gave the Gusties their biggest lead of the game at 10 points, 52-42. Gustavus ran Coach Mark Hanson’s motion offense to near perfection in the second half shooting 57.1 percent from the field making 12-of-21 attempts. Eight of the Gusties 12 second half baskets were layups.
Gustavus maintained a six-point lead or greater until the final minute of play when Jeremy Sutherland hit a clutch three-point basket at the 35 second mark to cut the Gustie lead to four points at 68-64. Gustavus would leave the door open for the Knights making 2-of-4 from the free throw line down the stretch, but a Carleton turnover and a couple of missed three-point attempts in the final seconds allowed the Gusties to hold on and advance to the MIAC Playoff Championship game for the second consecutive year and the 16th time in the 27-year history of the MIAC Playoffs.
Gustavus once again got very strong play from its starting line-up, which scored 55 of its 70 points on 59.3 percent shooting from the field (19-32) and 83.3 percent shooting from the free throw line (15-18). The Gusties starters were Seth Anderson with 18 points, Phil Wirtjes with 15, Bobby Johnson with 10, Paul Blacklock with 8, and Dan Schmidtknecht with 4. Reed Sallstrom led the bench scoring with six points.
The Gusties are now 6-2 all-time in the MIAC Playoffs against Carleton including a mark of 5-1 in St. Peter and 1-1 in Northfield.
With the win over the Knights, the Gusties advance to the MIAC Playoff Championship game for the 16th time. Ironically it will also be the 16th MIAC Title game appearance for the Tommies and the two long-time rivals have posted identical 9-6 records in MIAC Championship game play.
This will be the seventh time that Gustavus and St. Thomas have locked up in the MIAC Playoff Championship game and the Gusties have posted a record of 5-1 in the previous six meetings. Gustavus won the first five meetings by the scores of 53-52 in 1989, 62-49 in 1992, 66-62 in 1998, 62-36 in 2003, and 68-58 in 2005. St. Thomas won the last meeting with a 76-73 win in 2008.
Both teams are making their third MIAC Title game appearance in the last four seasons of play with the Gusties advancing the playoff finale in 2008, 2010, and 2011 and the Tommies in 2008, 2009, and 2011.
The Tommies swept the 2010-11 regular season series winning 68-64 in overtime on January 8 in St. Paul and 81-70 on February 12 in St. Peter.