Men’s Basketball: Warhawks host to begin ‘Big Dance’

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March 5, 2014

By Paul Bressler

The No. 3-ranked UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team is set to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament but could eventually have to go through No. 1-ranked UW-Stevens Point in a potential Elite Eight rematch.

The Warhawks will take on the University of Northwestern (MN) in the opening round of the NCAA Division-III Tournament at 7:30 p.m. on March 7.

The two teams met in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The ’Hawks, who ended up winning the D-III national championship that year, defeated the Eagles, 83-68, in the first round.

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Pat Miller

“We know quite a bit about them,” head coach Pat Miller said. “They’re a motion team and a solid shooting team. They run good motion to get open threes and are similar to La Crosse in that regard.”

Northwestern went 16-11 on the season and 11-3 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. The Eagles earned their fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth after they defeated Crown College 72-52 in the UMAC Championship game.

With a victory, the ’Hawks will take on the winner of the No. 18-ranked St. Thomas (MN) and the Augustana (IL) Vikings contest. The Vikings, ranked just outside the Top 25, received 17 votes in D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 for teams just on the outside. The Warhawks would host the winner at 7 p.m. on March 8.

The ’Hawks received an at-large berth into the national tournament. The complete field, including host sites and pairings, was announced March 3.

“Obviously we want to be in Salem [Va.] cutting down the nets when it’s all said and done,” Miller said. “We know that it’s a tough task, but if we play how we are capable of playing we feel like we can beat anybody.”

 

WIAC Tournament 

The WIAC final marked the rubber-match between the ’Hawks and Pointers with an automatic bid on the line.

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Alex Merg

“The atmosphere always presents a big challenge,” senior guard Alex Merg said. “Given it was one vs. two, the gym was completely full. It’s a really tough environment. Like none we will face the rest of the year.”

The ’Hawks started out playing well defensively but couldn’t muster up their offense in the early going. A layup by junior guard Quardell Young gave the ’Hawks the lead 8-6 at the 13:25 mark, their last lead of the game.

“They’re [Stevens Point] a really deep team,” Young said. “Credit goes out to them. They can score from any position on the floor. We needed a wakeup call. We’re going to approach this [loss] in a mature fashion.”

The ’Hawks closed out the half by giving up a 12-0 run and went into halftime trailing 14-37.

The Warhawks shot 44 percent and only committed two turnovers in the second half, but by that point it was already too late. The team shot 34 percent for the game while the Pointers shot 50 percent.

Young led the ’Hawks with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting and made three of four attempts from beyond the arc.

“I wasn’t as aggressive offensively in the first half,” Young said. “My defensive effort could have been better to help the team.”

The Pointers earned the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, which begins on March 6.

The ’Hawks’ previous game against UW-La Crosse in the semifinals may have been a sign for what is to come. The Warhawks had to sneak by the Eagles 76-73 to advance to the WIAC final.

Merg was the 2014 men’s basketball Max Sparger scholar-athlete recipient. He was presented with the award prior to tip-off.

“I wasn’t necessarily expecting it,” Merg said. “Receiving it was a big honor. It goes back to spending all those nights in the library until 2 a.m. You also have to have a prominent role on your team. My work ethic is the only thing that has gotten me by. This award is a tribute to that.”