ROCK ISLAND, Ill. – Junior Ben Ryan scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds Friday to lead Augustana to an 82-69 win over Mount Union in an NCAA Division III sectional semifinal at a packed Carver Center. The sixth-ranked Vikings advance to Saturday night's sectional final against 12th-ranked Marietta, a 79-72 winner over St. Olaf in the evening's first semifinal.
Augustana led wire-to-wire in eliminating the 19th-ranked Purple Raiders. Even with Mount Union—one of the nation's most prolific three-point shooting outfits—hitting eight of 14 trey attempts in the second half, Coach Grey Giovanine's club never let its lead dip below six points in the final 13 minutes.
Ryan scored the game's first seven points and the Vikings were never headed. The Purple Raiders eventually got within two, at 16-14, on a Kyle Scelza three with 10:49 to play in the first half. Five minutes later, the lead was still just three (22-19), but Augustana went on a 14-4 run to go up 36-23 with 1:36 before halftime. Junior Hunter Hill hit six straight free throws in the run and the Vikings got their only two three-pointers of the night from junior Jawan Straughter and senior Danielius Jurgutis . Mount Union cut the deficit to nine on baskets by J.J. Kukura and Taylor Moore, but Hill hit a fade away jumper from 16 feet—his only field goal of the night—just before the halftime buzzer to put his team ahead 38-27.
Ryan scored the first basket of the second half on a reverse layup before the visitors started raining threes. Jarrett Ruffin, Cody Dillon and Nate Jacubec each drained one from long range in a span of less than three minutes as the Purple Raiders drew to within 40-36.
The next three and a half minutes were key, as Augustana responded with 10 straight points. Hill hit a pair of freebies. Freshman Dylan Sortillo hit a jumper in the lane. Junior Tayvian Johnson had a steal and bucket. Junior Brandon Motzel dropped in a fade away in the lane and Straughter scored to cap the run. When it was over, the Vikings had their biggest lead of the night at 50-36.
Mount Union continued its barrage of three-pointers, getting treys from DeAllen Jackson, Stevie Griffin, Ruffin and Jackson twice more, but Augustana kept answering. Johnson assisted on back-to-back baskets by Ryan under the 6:00 minute mark. Hill continued to knock down big free throws and Ryan scored six straight Viking points from the 3:32 mark until 2:21 as Augustana kept the Purple Raiders at bay.
Griffin's basket with 1:49 to play got Mount Union within 71-65, but Johnson had two field goals in a 6-0 Viking run that pushed the lead back to double digits for good. Junior Griffin Pils, Hill and Jurgutis converted five of six free throws in the final 47 seconds to seal the deal.
Three Vikings joined Ryan in double figures. Hill overcame a rough shooting night from the field, hitting his final 14 free throw attempts after missing his first, to finish with 16 points. Johnson scored a dozen to go with seven rebounds and three assists and Straughter scored 11. Pils had a game high seven assists. Augustana shot .519 from the field, but misfired on 11 of 13 three attempts. The Vikings were 24 of 35 from the foul line. They outrebounded the Purple Raiders 37-31 and committed just seven turnovers to 11 for the visitors.
One of the nation's top shooting teams, Mount Union was limited to a .411 percentage from the floor. Augustana held the Purple Raiders to a season low in points, nearly 17 below their season average of 85.6 per game. Jackson led the way for Mount Union with 21 points.
Approximately 1,000 tickets remain for Saturday night's sectional final between Augustana and Marietta. They will go on sale at Carver Center at 5:00 p.m. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. with a trip to the Final Four in Salem, Virginia on the line.