The Loras College men’s and women’s basketball programs are making this season one to remember as both teams qualified for the division three NCAA basketball tournament. However, both teams did not win their conference, Wartburg College over the women’s team and Nebraska Wesleyan University over the men’s team.
Both teams were able to move on because both received a bid to qualify. About 20 teams in the NCAA division three receive a bid to qualify for the tournament. Both teams have above 20 wins during the season however, records no longer matter when it’s tournament play because anything can happen.
The women’s team will play the DePaul University Tigers on Friday, Mar. 1 at 4:30 p.m. in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The men’s team will play the Albion College Britons Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Naperville, Illinois. DePaul has an impressing winning percentage of .857 with a record of 24-4 overall. The team went 15-1 in NCAC conference play and has been on a nine game win streak going into the NCAA National tournament.
Albion has also had a strong season with an .704 winning percentage with an overall record of 19-8. Albion is also on a three-game win streak which aroused from their MIAA Conference in Michigan. Their conference record stands at a 10-4 while the Loras College men’s basketball team holds a 12-4 conference record and a .778 winning percentage from a 21-6 overall record.
Neither of the Loras College basketball programs are on a win streak due to the American Rivers Conference Tournament. The women’s team was riding a seven-game win streak which birthed after their previous encounter with Wartburg College. Before the men’s team lost to Nebraska Wesleyan, they were riding a five-game win streak.
“It’s a tough environment to play in and it was a long distance to travel so we wanted to try and bring energy to the game,” said senior guard Demond George referring to the Nebraska Wesleyan game. “Unfortunately we gave it our all but fell short.”
Nebraska Wesleyan declared their status of a No. 1 nationally ranked team to start the game with a 12-4 run. However, Loras proved they are a threat after responding with an 8-0 run to tie things up at 12. On the next possession, senior guard Josh Ruggles made a hustle play and saved the ball from going out of bounds and feeding sophomore forward Cole Navigato for a layup and a foul to tie the game again at 14.
Nebraska Wesleyan then responded with a 10-0 rally while holding the Duhawks scoreless for nearly five minutes of play until freshman forward Jordan Boyd found the net off a floater. To start the second half, the Duhawks accelerated during their next few possessions resulting in finishing 5-6 of their shots.
George was grinding defensively obtaining five steals, one of them was dished out to senior guard Ryan DiCanio for a corner three pointer, cutting the Prairie Wolves lead to 12. Nebraska Wesleyan then laid on the gas pedal going on an 11-0 run for three minutes, pushing the lead out of reach for the Duhawks, ending 79-97.
“A couple mental lapses on defenses halted our comebacks a couple times but our mindset now is that it’s a new season and we have to be the best team that we can be and the rest will take care of itself,” said George.
Also on the road was the women’s team in Waverly, Iowa against Wartburg College. The women’s team saw Wartburg two times earlier in their season going down twice, (64-76) and (49-68). Hence, the team took a different approach this time.
“Going into the game we were really excited for another chance at Wartburg,” said sophomore forward Marissa Schroeder. “We just wanted to go in and play relaxed, have fun, and just play hard.”
Like the men’s game, the women’s team struggled to find their groove until junior guard Macenzie Kraemer drained a shot from beyond the arc to tie the game at 10. Kraemer wasn’t the only one on fire; junior guard Riley Eckhart also found the net from beyond the arc only this time with eight seconds left in the first half giving Loras the lead 16-14 going into the second quarter.
The Wartburg Knights was able to balance the scoreboard early in the second quarter but the Duhawks were quick to respond with back-to-back triples from sophomore forward Courtney Schnoor and senior guard Taylor Brooks, forcing a six point gap in front of the Knights. The momentum continued to shift back and forth between the two teams.
With the end of the second quarter approaching, Wartburg was able to tie the game at 30 but the Duhawks weren’t satisfied. With four seconds left in the half, redshirt junior guard Kari Fitzpatrick sank a 3-pointer, giving her team the lead at the break.
The momentum tide seemed to flow in Loras’ interest in the third quarter with them working and extending their lead to eight with 54 seconds remaining after a Fitzpatrick 3-pointer. Going into the fourth quarter, the tide once again shifted and found itself favoring the Knights. Loras attempted to hold the lead for the last quarter but Wartburg went on a 17-4 run.
Loras fell short and went ice cold hitting 1-of-7 from the floor. Schroeder added two with a set of free throws. Unfortunately, Loras’ lead was blighted as Wartburg blazed through the quarter ending 61-73.
Schroeder added a team-best of nine rebounds throughout the game as Eckhart tallied 15 points which gave the Duhawks the lead for the majority of the game. Senior forward Hanna Stokes finished the regular season tied for fourth all-time free-throw percentage at 83.8, tying Bava’s mark from 2009-10.
Both the men’s and women’s team was huddled around computers on Monday to watch the NCAA Selection Show. Women’s ranked fourth in last week’s regional rankings while the men’s were ranked No. 3 in the region. Be sure to tune in on these games on Friday on duhawks.com.
“We were all so excited to get another chance to play and be with the seniors,” said Schroeder. “Seeing our name pop up on the bracket was so rewarding know that all we’ve don this season has paid off.”