Crazy season results in unexpected Final Four

UWO celebrates
UW-Oshkosh enjoys the regional championship trophy at Augustana.
Photo by David Malamut, d3photography.com
 

Two teams that got no votes at all in the final regular season poll found their way through the bracket to cut the nets down and book a trip to the final Final Four in Salem, while a first-timer will play in the national semifinals, as well as a throwback team from the 1990s. That's your 2018 Division III men's basketball semifinalists: Ramapo, Springfield, UW-Oshkosh and Nebraska Wesleyan.

NWU was known as the Plainsmen the last time they competed on Division III's biggest stage, but these days, the team known as the Prairie Wolves are devouring the competition, culminating in a 130-97 win vs. No. 1 Whitman at UW-Platteville on Saturday night. The win, which was just two points short of the Division III record for points in a tournament game, launched Nebraska Wesleyan into the Final Four for the first time since 1997.

Nebraska Wesleyan (28-3) shot an incredible 70.3 percent from the floor and made seven of its 10 from beyond the arc in the first half, and Whitman did nothing to stop the Prairie Wolves in the second half either. NWU was 21-for-32 from the floor and 8-for-14 from 3-point range in the second half of the win. 

Jack Hiller led all scorers with 30 points, while Cooper Cook and Deion Wells-Ross added 21 apiece in the win. Tim Howell scored 27 for Whitman, which saw its season end at 29-2.

Which men's teams will play for the national title?
Nebraska Wesleyan and Ramapo
Springfield and Ramapo
Nebraska Wesleyan and UW-Oshkosh
Springfield and UW-Oshkosh

UW-Oshkosh, which had defeated Augustana in double overtime in December, needed just one extra period to get the Vikings this time around and ended the CCIW champ's season with a 95-88 win in Rock Island, Illinois. The win puts the Titans in the Final Four for the first time, and makes Oshkosh the fifth member of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to reach the national semifinals. 

After Ben Boots hit three of his eight 3-pointers in the closing minutes of regulation to give UW-Oshkosh the lead, Chrishawn Orange tied the game with a jumper in the paint with four seconds left for Augustana to send the game to overtime. The teams went back and forth for the first three minutes of the extra session before the Titans (24-7) scored 10 of the final 13 points for the victory.

Boots finished with 36 points and Brett Wittchow added 19, helping the Titans overcome a 38-point performance from Augustana's Nolan Ebel. The Vikings finished 25-5.

Christopher Moseley hit two free throws with 0.9 seconds left to lift Ramapo past MIT 68-66 and get the Roadrunners into the Final Four. His two shots left him with a team-high 14 points and signified the final lead change in a game that featured 16 of them and 12 ties. Tim Roberts scored on a tip-in of a Cameron Korb miss that gave MIT a 66-64 lead, but Thomas Bonacum hit a jumper on the next possession and MIT turned it over.

It's Ramapo's first trip to the Final Four since 1991.

Josh Ford and James Long used back-to-back layups three minutes apart to put Ramapo ahead 61-58 with 4:36 left in regulation, but a Cameron Korb three-point basket and consecutive free throw turned the tide and gave the Engineers a 62-61 edge with 2:36 to play.  Both teams would go back and forth with baskets to deadlock them at 66-66 with 49 seconds left in regulation.

For MIT, Ian Hinkley led three players in double figures with 14 points. 

Springfield used some timely shooting and key halftime adjustments to overcome a seven point deficit to beat host Swarthmore 74-62 and advance to the national semifinals. Springfield made a concerted effort to slow the pace in the second half and hit six of ten from deep to seal the victory. The Pride became one of the few teams this season to out-rebound the Garnet, also holding them to 30% field goal shooting in the final period.

Swarthmore lacked the energy that had been on display in the first three rounds and found Springfield harder to put away than previous opponents. The Pride had only two second half turnovers and shot 17-of-20 from the FT line. Springfield was led by sophomore Jake Ross, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four assists. They also got 18 and 15 from sophomore Heath Post. Swarthmore was led by Cam Wiley’s 13 points.

Springfield will take on Nebraska Wesleyan in the second semifinal next Friday in Salem. The team is making its first ever trip to the Final Four, but is excited for the challenge ahead.

“We’re not done yet,” said Ross, “I have a hole in my heart and I want to fill it. We believe that we belong and we’re excited to compete.”