Turner’s three-point shot descended from heavens to let ’Hawks advance

Justin St. Peter, Sports Editor

When sophomore guard/forward Maurquis Turner received a pass from junior point guard Chris Jones and launched a three-pointer from the corner right in front of the UW-Whitewater bench, he turned to prayer.

“It hung in the air for a long time,” Turner said. “I’m like, ‘please it’s gotta go in.’ I thanked God that it went in.”

Thanking God was necessary in his case as the shot swished through the net with 1.3 seconds left on the clock, giving the Warhawks men’s basketball team an 83-81 lead over the University of Northwestern (Minnesota) Eagles in the first round of the Division-III NCAA Tournament.

The Eagles quickly called timeout as the noise inside Kachel Gymnasium erupted into a previously unheard of level of sound.

Sophomore guard Andre Brown deflected the ensuing in-bound pass to half-court out of bounds but left .3 seconds left on the clock. The Eagles went for a Hail-Mary pass near the rim, but the lob hit the roof of the gym and was ruled a turnover.

Turner was then fouled and drained both free throws to put the game out of reach for the Eagles, with 85-81 being the final tally in the victory.

It was a game that saw plenty of offense, with both teams shooting well over 50 percent from the floor (Eagles 54.6 percent, Warhawks 56.9 percent). The Eagles took an early lead and the ’Hawks were forced to trade buckets with the Eagles for most of the contest.

The Eagles did not relinquish the team’s stranglehold on the lead until the final minutes, as the ’Hawks only lead for 2:34 the entire game.

“It’s always fun when you play in games like this,” head coach Pat Miller said. “No one lost that game. No one gave it away. No one did anything ridiculous. It was just guys making plays back and forth. Those are the games that you wish for and really enjoy being a part of.”

Sophomore guard/forward Derek Rongstad hit three three-pointers in the first half before dominating the second half to a tune of 29 overall points, a new career high, and seven rebounds. His 20 second-half points were highlighted by a stretch where he scored 13 straight points for the ’Hawks through attacking the paint with a flurry of layups and converting three-point plays.

“I had hit some three’s in the first half and another one earlier in the second half, so I was just trying to utilize the fact that they were playing me really tight and try to beat guys off the dribble,” Rongstad said. “I was just able to get to the rim and draw some contact on a couple of them. My shots were falling.”

Junior forward Scotty Tyler added 18 points and six rebounds, while Jones nearly completed a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds. Turner chipped in with 12 points off the bench, shooting 3-4 from three-point range, including the game-winner.

The Eagles had three in double-figures and were led by senior guard Cody Sprenger’s 31 points on 14-24 shooting and five assists.

Head coach Pat Miller said he was not surprised by Sprenger’s success and tried adjusting to it.

“He was shredding us in the first half, coming off the screens and getting into the paint,” Miller said. “We tried to change our defense to force him into more of a perimeter game. And, it worked because he didn’t get into the paint, but he made every perimeter shot he took too. So, I don’t know how effective our strategy was. He scored differently. At least we made him do that.”

A pair of senior forwards, Peter Maring and Aaron Youngberg added 19 and 14 points respectively.

The game was back and forth from the start with two ties and six lead changes throughout the first half. The ’Hawks had no answer for the driving duo of Sprenger and Maring, who combined for 28 of the Eagles 42 first half points.

The ’Hawks held three one-point leads in the first half but went into halftime down 42-35.

Once the second half began, both teams continued trading baskets with the ’Hawks inching closer throughout.

A beautiful drop-down pass from Rongstad to Tyler led to a dunk, and the ’Hawks bringing the lead to three, 64-61 with 6:34 left in the game.

With 3:49 left, the Rongstad run began. Four layups, three free throws and a tip-in later, Rongstad had tied the game up for the ’Hawks at 77 with 1:19 remaining.

The three-point play that tied the game came in the most unlikely fashion after Rongstad missed a pair of free throws, and junior guard Demetrius Woodley corralled the rebound and put up a shot. It missed, but Rongstad was able to tip it in, get fouled and hit the free-throw to tie it up.

“I should’ve hit those free throws, but Woodley bailed me out,” Rongstad said. “I was able to get inside position there and get my hand on it. Fortunately enough for me, I got it to go in. It took us over the hump. That was the first time we had tied it in awhile.”

Woodley fouled out on the next possession, and the Eagles made both free throws. With 51 seconds left, Jones found Tyler for an open three in the middle of the court to give UW-W its first lead since midway through the first half at 80-79.

Turner stole the ball on the following defensive possession before Rongstad committed one of his rare mistakes on the night. Eagles senior guard Will Gisler stripped Rongstad of the ball on his drive and threw an outlet pass to a breaking Sprenger for the go-ahead layup with 10 seconds remaining.

With an 81-80 deficit, Miller decided to not call timeout and saw Jones drive and find Turner open in the corner. The rest was history.

With the victory, the ’Hawks will take on Augustana College (Illinois) at 7 p.m. tomorrow night, March 4, at home. The Vikings rallied from eight points down with 40 seconds to play to beat the defending champion University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) on a buzzer-beater three by sophomore guard Chrishawn Orange in the first game in Kachel Gymnasium.

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