Portage County Gazette 20th Anniversary: UWSP men’s basketball wins National Title
This story is a reprint from the March 26, 2010, edition of The Portage County Gazette.
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
SALEM, VA-With its National Title hopes on the line, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s basketball team pulled through down the stretch.
The fifth-ranked Pointers trailed second-ranked Williams College (Ma.) 56-47 with 10:31 to play in the NCAA Division III National Championship Game at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va., Saturday, March 20, and were seemingly on the ropes.
However, UWSP battled back with a 19-3 run over the next six minutes to build a 66-59 lead, and then used a layup from senior guard Matt Moses with three seconds left to seal the 78-73 victory and lift the Pointers to their third National Title in seven years.
“This is one of the best feelings in the world,” said junior guard Jared Jenkins. “This is just an amazing feeling, and we get to enjoy it for a while.”
“All I can say is we had tremendous courage at about that 10-minute mark when we fought back, and put ourselves in position to reach our dreams,” said UWSP men’s basketball head coach Bob Semling. “I can’t say enough about these guys, and can’t be more proud.”
The Pointers started their run in the Final Four against 16th-ranked Randolph-Macon College (Va.) (26-7) a day earlier in the National Semifinals Friday, March 19, where they stormed out to a 16-3 lead just over five minutes into the first half, and remained in control on the way to a 38-19 lead at halftime.
UWSP led by as many as 24 when it built a 47-23 lead with 15:36 to play, and went on to a 72-60 victory to advance to the National Championship Game Saturday, as Jenkins finished with 17 points, junior forward Louis Hurd had 14, and Moses and freshman point guard Jerrel Harris each added 11.
“I’m just really proud of the start that our guys had,” said Semling. “That was what it was going to take, for us to really set the tone defensively.”
“That’s what we’ve been priding ourselves on, getting out, hitting our shots early and getting into teams’ faces on defense,” said Hurd. “We’ve been a pretty fast-starting team the whole season, so I think it kind of comes natural to us.”
Just over 16 hours later, the Pointers were back on the court at the Salem Civic Center, where they were set to play at noon on Saturday against Williams(30-2), which beat third-ranked Guilford College (N.C.) (30-3) 97-88 in the other semifinal on Friday night.
Williams entered the weekend averaging 85.2 points per game and led the nation in field goal percentage (52.5) and three-point field goal percentage (45.8), led by First Team All-American senior guard Blake Schultz and Second Team All-American sophomore point guard James Wang.
The game was tight throughout the first half, although UWSP never led until sophomore forward Dan Tillema knocked down a three-pointer with 9:24 left in the first half to put the team ahead 16-14, which was part of a 13-4 run by the Pointers that saw them build a 24-18 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the half.
However, Williams followed with a 9-0 run of its own to go up 25-24, and carried a 32-30 lead into intermission.
In the second half, UWSP hung tough for the first five minutes, but Williams used an 11-4 run to go up 54-44 with 11:02 left, and seemed on the verge of pulling away.
“We looked each other in the eye, and we understood the urgency,” said Semling. “We talked about the fact we were saying the right things, but we weren’t doing them. And our guys just dug deep.
“They had great will, great determination, and they agreed,” said Semling. “They said, ‘we know what to do, we just have to do it.’ And it just seemed to change.”
With Williams up 56-47 with 10:31 left in the game, Tillema knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to pull the Pointers within 56-53 with 9:21 left, and Hurd buried a three-pointer just over a minute later to tie the game at 56-56.
After Williams took a 59-58 lead on a free throw with 7:03 remaining, UWSP went ahead for good on a driving layup from Moses that made it 60-59 with 5:59 left, which was followed by a three-pointer from Jenkins to push the Pointers’ lead to 63-59.
With the UWSP crowd on their feet, Jenkins came up with a steal at midcourt, drove in for a layup and was fouled as he put the ball in the basket to give the Pointers a 66-59 lead after he made the free throw to cap a 19-3 run with 5:02 to play.
Williams cut the Pointers’ lead to 66-64 on a pair of free throws and a three-pointer with 4:11 left, but after both teams missed a pair of shots, Jenkins buried another three-pointer with 2:31 to go to increase UWSP’s lead to 69-64.
It remained that way until Wang scored on a three-point play with 1:15 left that cut the Pointers’ lead to 69-67, but Tillema knocked down a pair of free throws with 52 seconds left to push the lead back to 71-67.
UWSP added four late free throws from Moses and one from Harris to give the team a 76-70 lead with 15 seconds left, but Williams’ Schultz knocked down a three-pointer to cut UWSP’s lead to 76-73 with eight seconds left.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Moses broke free down the right side of the court, caught the ball near midcourt and took it all the way in for a lay up with three seconds left to clinch the Pointers’ National Title with a 78-73 victory.
Moses led UWSP with 22 points and seven rebounds, and capped his Pointer career by being named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
“Good things happen to good people,” said Semling. “I know that’s a cliché, but this young man, they don’t come any better.
“And he played his best basketball the last month of his senior year, and he took us to a National Title,” said Semling.
Jenkins was also named to the Final Four’s All-Tournament team, as he finished with 17 points, while Hurd chipped in with 10.
Meanwhile, Tillema, a transfer from NCAA Division II University of Minnesota-Duluth who has battled an ACL injury throughout the second half of the season, knocked down three-of-four shots from behind the arc and finished with 15 points off the bench.
“Dan had an ACL injury, and every time he came back he’d tweak it again,” said Semling. “We rode the roller coaster of ‘possibly surgery the next week,’ to ‘maybe he can come back, maybe he can’t.’ And he tried and sometimes he reinjured it. I thought most guys would give up, and he fought back.
“And you just knew something good was going to happen, because of his resiliency and his fight, and what he went through this season,” said Semling. “But what a reward, for him to play this well in a National Title Game, and lift his teammates.”
“Numerous times I thought I was done for the season because of my knee,” said Tillema. “But the trainers did a great job with me, and I give them a lot of credit.
“It’s such a great feeling to come back and fight back and play at such a high level and make an impact on the National Championship Game,” he said. “I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”
And after falling in the final game of the regular season, to miss out on the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Regular Season Title, the Pointers ran the table in the postseason, as they bounced back to win eight straight games and the 2010 National Championship.
“It’s just so surreal for me,” said Tillema. “I never would have guessed that I’d be sitting up here today. I had a long road coming to Point, so words can’t even describe how great it feels right now.”
“It’s definitely the best feeling in the world,” said Moses. “We worked so hard for this. And we’re just real thankful for where we are.”