‘Hawks fail to repeat

 

By Andrew Bayliss

 

In 2012, the Warhawks men’s basketball team set what head coach Pat Miller called the “gold standard” of expectations by bringing a national title to UW-Whitewater.

This season, a lack of rebounding and inconsistent shooting led to the second-round defeat of the Warhawks at the hands of North Central College, putting an end to the ’Hawks’ goal of repeating as NCAA Division III champions.

The Cardinals, ranked No. 3, according to d3hoops.com, beat the fifth-ranked ’Hawks, 64-60, in the NCAA tournament round of 32.

“It’s just extremely disappointing, because this team has made so much progress throughout the year,” Miller said.  “You obviously want your team to experience success and make a deep tournament run.”

The ’Hawks were riding a 10-game winning streak going into the contest against the Cardinals, but momentum could not keep the larger, physical Cardinals from gaining a 33-21 advantage in rebounding.

“I thought we played hard, and North Central is a very good, very physical team,” Miller said. “The difference in our game was our inability to rebound and inconsistent shooting, which have been themes in our losses all year.”

Sophomore guard K.J. Evans came off of the bench to score 19 points. Evans made eight of his 12 shots, but the ’Hawks finished the game shooting only 43.8 percent. Darnell Harris and Quardell Young added 12 and 11 points, respectively.

“I don’t think we played to our potential,” Young said. “A lot of ticky-tack fouls were called, and that didn’t let us play to our potential on defense.”

Young said the ’Hawks have improved dramatically since the beginning of this season on defense, so allowing the Cardinals to shoot more than 50 percent from the field was disappointing.

With this loss, the ’Hawks finished with a record of 24-5. Going into the NCAA tournament, the ’Hawks were ranked No. 5, according to d3hoops.com. Miller said matching up against a quality team like the Cardinals so early in the NCAA tournament is an unfortunate reality of playing D-III basketball in the Midwest Region.

“Seven of the last 10 national champions have come from the Midwest,” Miller said. “The power in D-III basketball is in the Midwest, so you play final-four or elite-eight type teams in the second round.”

The loss to the Cardinals marks the end of the careers of the Warhawks’ three seniors: forward/center Luke Knoble, guard Spencer Koepp and forward Rory Cotter.

Knoble started his career as a bench player, eventually working his way into the regular rotation as a sophomore. This year, Knoble started every game for the ’Hawks, scoring 10.5 points per game and hauling in 3.6 rebounds per game.

“Luke has a great work ethic and is a great student,” Miller said. “He’s not a vocal, outward leader but a guy who leads every day by coming in and working as hard as he can. I think it’s a positive to have someone like that on your team.”

Miller said Knoble’s progression from a bench player to a secondary player to assuming a primary role should serve as a great example to the younger players on the team who are in a similar situation.

“Knoble was one of those players that wants to work hard every day no matter how he’s feeling, which is something you can’t teach,” Young said.

With only three seniors, the ’Hawks will maintain almost the entire core of their team. Miller said the team was talking about next year on the bus ride home from North Central.

“Next year, I hope our team gets clicking earlier and gets that progression earlier, so we can stay consistent throughout the entire season,” Young said.

For most programs, a 24-5 record and a win in the NCAA tournament would be considered a successful season, but Miller said the ’Hawks have clearly set the bar because of their continued success during the past few years.

“Once you’ve won a national championship, that becomes the gold standard,” Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do just to maintain where we’re at.”

 

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