Rongstad’s career-high 34 not enough to snap skid

Rongstad’s career-high 34 not enough to snap skid

Kolton Hegstrom, Sports Editor

The UW-Whitewater men’s basketball team dropped the first game of the WIAC tournament despite a career-high 34 points from junior Derek Rongstad.

The Warhawks lost 79-68 to UW-River Falls, dropping their third game of the season to the Falcons. UW-W came back from an 18-point first half deficit to cut the lead to two late in the second half, but ultimately trailed for the final 36 minutes of the game.

“We weren’t able to hit the big shot or take the lead which was disappointing, but certainly not from a lack of fight,” head coach Pat Miller said.

After a layup by junior Riley Jensen tied the score at seven four minutes into the game UW-R went on an 8-0 run to take a lead they would ultimately hold for the remainder of the contest. Later in the first half the Falcons scored 10 unanswered points to balloon the lead to 18 points with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. A buzzer beater by Rongstad capped off his 23-point half cutting the deficit to 12 heading into the break.

“In the locker room we talked about how ‘this could be our last half’ and we just wanted to come out and give it our all,” junior guard David Sachs said.

In the first minute of the second half UW-W trimmed the lead to single digits after back-to-back 3-pointers from juniors Mitchell Pfiefer and Rongstad. The Warhawks continued to outscore the Falcons to start the second, cutting the deficit to just two points after Rongstad split a pair of free throws with just under ten minutes left in the contest. The game remained close up until a Rongstad layup cut the Falcons’ lead to four with 2:39 remaining, but that layup would be the last field goal of the game for UW-W. UW-R closed the game on a 10-3 run to secure the victory.

“We put ourselves in a good place to possibly win that, but unfortunately couldn’t knock down some free throws, couldn’t knock down some shots and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” Sachs, who finished with five points, five assists and four steals said post-game.

The Falcons would go on to defeat No. 5 UW-Platteville in the second round of the tournament and will play UW-Stevens Point in the WIAC Championship on Feb. 25.

After starting out the season 11-1 and reaching as high as No. 5 in the D-III rankings the Warhawks finished the year with five consecutive losses. Three of the final five losses came by five points or less. UW-W’s 16-10 overall record is tied for the worst finish since Pat Miller took over as head coach in 2001.

The loss makes it unlikely for the Warhawks to make the NCAA D-III Tournament. It would be just the third time in the last ten seasons UW-W didn’t make the tournament.

Senior guard Jerry Ngobi will be the lone Warhawk leaving the team next season, and it’s the rest of the returning core that has Miller and the rest of the Warhawks excited about the prospect of next season despite a difficult 2017-18 campaign.

“We have the same group coming back next year which is a real positive for us,” Jensen said. “We can all grow together this offseason and work hard and hopefully win a championship.”