March 25, 2014
By Justin St. Peter
Salem, Va. – Not one, not two, not three, but the UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team now has four national championships.
When Williams University senior center Michael Mayer tipped in a Duncan Robinson missed jumper with 4.9 seconds left on the clock, things looked dire for the Warhawks who were down 73-72.
“I thought we had won a national championship,” Robinson said. “My first thought wasn’t to get back on defense.”
’Hawks forward K.J. Evans quickly turned and fired the inbounds pass to guard Quardell Young. Young caught it at the three point line and raced down the court.
Four dribbles later, he elevated from the middle of the lane. As the ball left his dominant left hand, Mayer, the Ephs’ First Team All-American, hacked him across the arm. The ball hit the left side of the rim, bounced off the back iron, and dropped in.
As the crowd erupted, the referee blew the whistle for the foul. The ’Hawks had a 74-73 lead with 0.9 seconds remaining.
“I know that it was not that much time left, so I knew I had to attack aggressively,” Young said. “I made an in-and-out move, and I saw the defender shift his body toward the outside, so I took one step towards the inside, so I was available to make the layup.”
Young stepped to the line to purposely miss the free throw and end the game. Instead, he watched a line drive free throw drop through the net.
Williams University called timeout and got a heave from Robinson after the inbounds pass that fell far short, and the Warhawks were national champions.
The ’Hawks were previous champs in 1984, 1989 and 2012. Young, senior Eric Bryson, junior Cody Odegaard, and senior Alex Merg were all on the 2012 championship winning squad.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Young said. “Teams don’t get the opportunity to play in the postseason, as well as play in the final four. To make it this far, with this group of guys, is just amazing.”
Young became the second Warhawk to make it as the No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s top-ten plays that night, following in Mary Merg’s footsteps during last year’s Final Four.
The ’Hawks started the game out hot, shooting 4-4 from three and limiting Williams from getting good looks from beyond the arc that they had thrived on in their 98-69 blow-out win against Amherst the night before.
The Warhawks led by 15 with 5:24 left in the first half after senior forward Reggie Hearn made a pair of free throws. From there, the Ephs went on a 13-2 run to close the half. The ’Hawks entered the break leading 37-33.
The teams traded baskets for much of the second half. The Ephs took the lead on a Daniel Wohl three-point play with 10:57 left in the game.
The game was tied six times, and the lead changed hands 10 times, eight of which being in the second half.
Bryson hit a deep three-pointer to give the ’Hawks a 72-71 lead with 55 seconds left.
“The last four games, I was 0-20 from behind the arc, and I was shooting about 40 percent,” Bryson said. “This game, to hit three three’s and one huge one, it was just a great way to go out on a senior season.”
Junior forward Steve Egan forced a steal with 35 seconds left. After a timeout, Merg missed the front-end of a one and one situation at the line. Then Mayer’s tip and Young’s game-winning lay-up followed.
The ’Hawks were led by the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, KJ Evans, who had 22 points on 9-16 shooting from the field. He also hauled in seven rebounds.
“Coming in, the ultimate goal was just to put a ring on my finger,” Evans said. “It’s nice to be recognized in that way [as Most Outstanding Player].”
Bryson contributed 13 points, shooting three-for-five from behind the arc, and added six rebounds and six assists.
Young had 13 points and five assists. Hearn added 10 points and five rebounds, but he fouled out with 3:12 remaining.
“We went after Hearn to try and get him out of the game,”Ephs head coach Mike Maker said. “When that happened, truthfully, I thought we were going to win.”
Mayer had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Ephs. Robinson had 17 points. Wohl contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
Robinson and Mayer were named to the All-Tournament team with the ’Hawks’ Bryson, Young and Evans.
It was third time ever that a school won both the football and basketball championships in the same year. The previous two were the University of Florida in 2006 and UW-Whitewater in 2012.
“In some places national championships are distant goals, things that other people do,” head coach Pat Miller said. “When you are around that [Whitewater] campus and around people that have won national championships in a variety of different sports, you get that ‘Why not us?’ It really does create a culture of winning and competing on a national stage.”
The Warhawks now have the second-most basketball championships all time in Division III. They are only one title behind North Park University who won all of their titles in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
When asked what they were going to do to celebrate, Bryson said he had no elaborate plans.
“There were a couple guys that booked trips to Cancun, but me personally; I didn’t book a trip because I knew we were going to get here, or have a chance to. I guess I will just be hanging out in Whitewater.”
National Semifinal Game vs. Illinois Wesleyan
K.J. Evans had a career-high 30 points in the win against Illinois Wesleyan the night before to propel the Warhawks to the title game.
Going into the break, the Titans had a 29-28 lead over the ’Hawks in a half where no team could really take control of the game.
Evans had a layup, stole the ball and then had a fast break dunk to give the Warhawks the early lead in the second half.
With 16:06 left in the game, Egan was called for foul but was rolling around in pain after it. After leaving the court to get his shoulder popped back in, he was back on the court not long afterwards.
“His [Egan’s] contributions tonight were outstanding, and they have been throughout the year,” Miller said. “He was active, and his minutes were really valuable to us winning this game.”
After a Bryson technical foul with 13:58 remaining, the ’Hawks went on a 14-1 run in the next 4:25.
Odegaard banked in a three during the run.
“I let it go and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really far to the left,’” Odegaard said. “Then I saw it bank in.”
After the run was over, the Titans switched to a zone defense. After a Young layup that put the Warhawks up 59-45 with 8:16 left, the ’Hawks made one field goal the rest of the game.
Miller’s team went 12-15 from the charity stripe down the stretch to close out the game. During that time, the Titans got within five, 68-63, with 48 seconds left.
That was when Evans fired a long pass down the court that was picked off. The Titans had a three-pointer go in and out, and the ’Hawks survived.
“K.J. is a reaction, feel athlete,” Pat Miller said with a smile on his face. “I could run a thousand drills about not throwing that pass, and I guarantee you he would have thrown it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because he has that aggressiveness, that intensity.”
The ’Hawks were led by Evans’ 30, 20 of which coming in the second half.
“I’m not sure what it’s been throughout the year, but I play better in the second half,” Evans said.
Merg had 10 points, and Bryson chipped in 10 points and nine rebounds.
Odegaard contributed eight points on 2-3 shooting from behind the arc. Egan added five points, six rebounds and two blocks.
The ’Hawks will not have their championship parade until the school’s spring break is over, and the students can all celebrate it.