For the first time in a decade, the men’s basketball team earned at least a share of the Iowa Conference regular-season title.
The Duhawks looked to take the trophy outright as they played host to the Nebraska Wesleyan Prairie Wolves on Feb. 18 in the AWC. The first matchup between these sides was a thriller in Lincoln. A back and forth affair ended with first-year Matt Dacy-Seijo burying a controversial three pointer right at the buzzer to give Loras the victory, 92-89. The home game go-round would be no different.
A packed house was on hand for Senior Day. The student section, dressed in white, came with a full throat to give Loras the home court advantage.
In the first half, both sides went basket for basket, with the Prairie Wolves taking a slight lead into the break.
Unfortunately for the Duhawks, they were off all day from three-point range, hitting just 9 of their 36 attempts. Overall, Loras shot 39 percent for the game, compared to NWU’s 51 percent. Clutch free-throw shooting sealed the victory for the Prairie Wolves, 101-94, and granted them the top seed in the conference tournament.
By losing in the regular-season finale, the Duhawks earned the second seed in the Iowa Conference Tournament and a bye into the semifinals. They then welcomed the lowest seed, Wartburg, into the AWC.
Another near-capacity crowd was on hand for this battle of heated foes. Loras looked strong in the first half, as junior
Demond George scored 12 of his 19 points to pace the Purple & Gold.
Dacy-Seijo knocked down a triple right before the first half ended to fire up the Duhawk faithful and give the home team a 46-36 lead.
In the second half, it was a totally different story. Wartburg outscored Loras 56-43 and shot 70 percent from the floor, flipping the script.
The Duhawks kept it close thanks to senior Justin VanWambeke, who exploded for 23 of his 28 total points. Unfortunately, the Duhawks again had trouble with their long-range shooting, and Wartburg rallied for a spot in the tournament title game.
It was a bittersweet end to a fantastic regular season run by a revitalized program. In head coach Chris Martin’s first season at the helm, the Duhawks finished 18-8 overall and 11-5 in the Iowa Conference. They earned their first regular season conference championship since 2006-07, thanks in part to an 11-game winning streak that catapulted Loras to the top of the standings. The team will be losing three great seniors, VanWambeke, forward Danny Quinn, and guard/forward Christian Mathis. All three made huge impacts throughout the season, with VanWambeke leading the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game. Both Quinn and Mathis played big under the basket for the Duhawks.
“It’s been a wild ride. I couldn’t be prouder of what this group accomplished this year,” Quinn said. “We went through a lot from this time last year, but we were a family and it all culminated to winning a conference championship.”
Moving forward, the men’s basketball program has a bright future.
Returning next year will be the likes of George and Dacy-Seijo, along with sophomores Ryan DiCanio and Josh Ruggles. DiCanio ranked second on the team in scoring, 15.3 PPG, and led in both rebounds, 7.4 RPG, and assists, 3.6 APG. Along with sophomore big man Jake Toman and scrappy junior guard Justin Busch, the Duhawks have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
“I’m very excited to see all that this program accomplishes moving forward. They have an immense amount of talent, a great and dedicated coaching staff, and most importantly they know what it takes after this past year,” added Quinn. “I think there is no doubt this team can repeat as champions, but even go further. They’ll embrace the pressure and thrive under it.”