March 12, 2014
By Ryan Altman
A wild finish to the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament title game on March 8 capped off another championship season for the UW-Whitewater men’s wheelchair basketball team.
The ’Hawks’ victory in Arlington, Texas, gives the team its 11th national championship in program history and also marks its fourth title in the last six seasons.
The ’Hawks traveled to Texas for the 2014 NIWBT on March 6, wheelchair basketball’s own “March Madness.” The team entered as the No. 2 seed behind host University of Texas at Arlington (UT-A) and needed three wins for the elusive first place finish.
The ’Hawks earned the first of their three victories after swiftly beating Edinboro University, 76-19, in the quarterfinals. Junior Derrick Bisnett led all scorers with 29 points and eight rebounds.
“It was more us exposing their weaknesses,” head coach Jeremy Lade said. “We knew [Edinboro] would struggle with the transition.”
In the semifinals on Friday, the ’Hawks squared off against the University of Alabama.
The ’Hawks secured a berth in the championship game by defeating the Crimson Tide, 69-59, behind senior Jake Williams’ 26 points. Bisnett grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
The championship game against the UT-A Mavericks on March 8 provided a big challenge for the ’Hawks, as the Mavs were responsible for both of the team’s conference losses.
Ahead of the game, Lade said he altered the team’s game plan to adapt to UT-A’s size advantage.
“We forced them to take more outside shots, and it worked well,” Lade said. “On our offensive end, we spread our shooters and gave them the green light.”
This strategy worked, as the ’Hawks utilized scoring from outside the post and took a 32-30 lead into halftime.
The ’Hawks and Mavs traded baskets throughout the second half, but the ’Hawks lost the lead with 10 seconds remaining. The Mavs took advantage of a missed free throw with 25 seconds left and quickly moved the ball up the court, hitting a 15-footer to give them a 54-53 lead.
The ’Hawks called a timeout on the ensuing possession and drew up a play designed to confuse the Mavs.
“They thought I was going to run behind a double screen, Derrick [Bisnett] did it instead,” Williams said regarding the “trick” play.
Using Williams as a decoy, the ’Hawks were able to find Bisnett open, and he hit what would become the game-winning shot with five seconds left on the clock.
“I looked up at the clock, and there were only a few seconds left, so we knew they were going to try getting the ball past half court,” Bisnett said about the final seconds. “We were saying let’s get a couple guys up to make them touch the ball.”
The Mavs were unable to respond in time, as a last-second desperation shot bounced off the rim, giving the ’Hawks the championship, 55-54.
Williams led the way with a double-double, scoring 24 points and dishing out 13 assists.
Not only did the ’Hawks take home a first place trophy, but several players also received national recognition.
Bisnett took home Player of the Game, First-Team All-American and Academic All-American awards. Freshman Dylan Fischbach received second-team honors.
“I was really excited about [the honors],” Bisnett said. “I worked really hard both inside and outside the gym during the season.”
For Lade, this is the fourth national championship during his coaching stint with the ’Hawks.
Lade said the team had gone 1-2 against UT-A during the regular season, but because they had not faced their starting lineup, this win was special in a different way.
“[The win] wasn’t as emotional for me,” Lade said. “It was a new batch of kids to do it.”