Those who braved the elements and made the trek to Gregory Arena were treated to a bit of history Thursday evening, as the North Central College men's basketball team closed with a strong stretch run and defeated No. 1-ranked Augustana, 68-63.
The No. 22-ranked Cardinals (18-3, 10-2 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) extended their current winning streak to seven games and recorded just the second victory over a No. 1-ranked team in their history. North Central's other win over a top-ranked opponent was on Jan. 4, 2006, at Illinois Wesleyan by a score of 74-70.
Augustana had just ascended to the No. 1 spot in the D3hoops.com Top 25 on Monday afternoon.
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The score was tied eight times in the first 15 minutes of play, though an 8-0 Augustana gave the visitors their largest lead of the night at 29-21 with 3:14 to play in the opening period. After taking a charge on the defensive end to prevent the lead from growing any larger, Blaise Meredith scored five points in 29 seconds to help cut into the deficit. Matt Cappelletti closed the period with a putback just before the buzzer sounded, sending the Cardinals into halftime with just a 33-28 disadvantage.
Cappelletti and Tommy Koth hit from 3-point range to open the second half and level the score at 34-34 after less than two minutes had elapsed. Brett Benning scored to nudge the Vikings ahead once again, but another Cappelletti three put the hosts in front, 37-36, and prompted an Augustana timeout.
|North Central (Ill.) athletics photo
The Cardinals forced a turnover coming out of the stoppage and got an inside jumper from Meredith, and Koth struck again from behind the 3-point line to extend the lead to 42-36. After a Micah Martin free throw on the other end of the floor, Connor Raridon connected on a fallaway jumper in the paint to provide North Central with its largest lead of the evening at 44-37 with 14:37 on the clock.
The Vikings (19-2, 11-1 CCIW) scored five straight points to close the gap, though back-to-back layups by Meredith and Will Clausel slowed their progress. North Central stayed in front until 7:37 remained, when Pierson Wofford converted a three-point play and Nolan Ebel sank a jumper on consecutive possessions to give the Vikings a 56-52 lead with 7:08 to play.
Augustana, however, went scoreless for the next five minutes, opening the door for the Cardinals to rally one final time. Another jumper in the lane by Raridon left the hosts with just a 56-55 deficit, and Cappelletti's steal and subsequent fast-break layup gave North Central a 57-56 lead. Koth grabbed a defensive rebound on the ensuing possession, then spotted up from the left baseline for another three to put the Cardinals in the driver's seat at 60-56.
Ebel delivered a triple of his own with 1:43 to play, but missed the front end of a one-and-bonus with a chance to tie or take the lead. Cappelletti collected the rebound before hoisting a three-pointer from the left wing and ripping the net to restore the Cardinals' four-point lead in the final minute. Needing to foul to extend the game, the Vikings sent Aaron Jones to the charity stripe twice in the final 16 seconds, and the junior responded by sinking all four attempts to preserve the victory.
The Cardinals won for the fourth time this season after trailing at halftime. Meredith and Cappelletti shared game-high scoring honors with 18 points each, and Cappelletti's seven rebounds tied him with Raridon for the team lead. Raridon also put up 13 points and handed out four assists.
Wofford paced Augustana with 15 points and six rebounds, while Chrishawn Orange and Lucas Simon each scored 11 points.
North Central is idle until Wednesday, when it hosts Illinois Wesleyan University (12-8, 5-6). Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.