Basketball upsets its way to Final Four


John Hynst

#15 Delvin Barnstable drives baseline in game against UW-River Falls in the Kachel Fieldhouse on Feb. 20

Parker Olsen, Men’s Sports Editor

UW-Whitewater Men’s Basketball is headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2014 after a run of upset victories. The Warhawks traveled to Ashland, Virginia, to compete in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds of the NCAA tournament. The team pulled off two massive upsets to advance.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far to be honest. It’s been amazing, these guys are resilient, they play extraordinarily hard, they play well together, they keep fighting,” head coach Pat Miller said. “Our games are not things of beauty, there’s still mistakes and deficiencies but they overcome those because of their spirit, their connection to each other and how hard they’re playing.”

They opened the weekend with a truly March Madness style 83-82 victory over No. 11 Johns Hopkins University (25-5). The matchup was a tight one from beginning to end, with 18 lead changes, 12 ties and never more than an eight point margin.

The Warhawks led for a good portion of the game however late in the second half found themselves slipping behind. Down seven with just 42 seconds remaining, Whitewater began fouling to take advantage of Johns Hopkins struggles from the free-throw line, shooting just over 60%.

It appeared hope was lost when Whitewater botched a chance at a buzzer beater with under five seconds to go but Delvin Barnstable drew a foul going for a loose ball and capitalized by tying the game with free throws to force overtime.

“We just kept fighting and knocked down some big free throws,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier for these guys, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Whitewater scored just eight points in the five minute overtime period, one point more than their opponent and good enough to propel them to the Elite 8.

Both Miles and Delvin Barnstable scored 17 points, the Warhawks were led by Jameer Barker who scored 19. Whitewater shot 38.8% from the field, including 38.9% from behind the arc. Johns Hopkins shot over 45% from the field but were weighed down by a 26.7% mark from range and their 60.6% free throw shooting.

“I do feel fortunate that we won but to our credit today we were 24 of 30 today from the free throw line, they were 20 of 33, that’s a significant stat in the game,” Miller said. “I feel fortunate, I’ve got about five texts already from people who turned the game off and said ‘great season, sorry you lost.’”

In the Elite 8 game the Warhawks took down No. 6 Oswego State (28-3) 77-74 to punch their ticket to the Final Four. The Lakers came into the game with an upset win of their own after defeating No. 1 and reigning champion Randolph-Macon. 

This time around Whitewater maintained their lead late in the game and survived a comeback that was heavily fueled by Oswego State’s Jeremiah Sparks who scored 35 points on 11-23 shooting. The free throw shooting that saved Whitewater the day before was almost their demise as they shot 58.6% from the line. Despite a missed free throw with under two seconds to go, the clock expired before Oswego State could get a hold of the ball, sending the Warhawks to their first Final Four since 2014 when they won the national championship.

Whitewater’s Carter Capstran had himself a day, scoring a double double with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Miles Barnstable led the team with 23 points. As a team Whitewater shot 50% from the field and 46.2% from behind the arc.

“The people supporting me and the people that we play for really mentally got to me and I felt like I could make an impact on today’s game so I came out and gave it 110 percent,” Capstran said.

Capstran stepped up against Oswego State to help pick up Trevon Chislom who had struggled with foul trouble for nearly the entire game. Picking up teammates like that is, according to Miller, what good teams do and it’s part of why they’ve advanced this far.

“I feel like one of the biggest things for this team, and coach always says, is we’re really unselfish,” Capstran said. “I think our connections off the court can help us on the court. I think the fact that we can all trust each other with different roles in different games really just helps us be very mobile and helps us push through no matter what’s going on.”

The uniqueness of this team goes beyond the upsets. After the death of star player Derek Gray to a cardiac event in the summer, this team has become as closely bonded as any group of people.

“They’re playing for Derek and his memory, that’s where the purpose is coming from. It’s been an incredible journey,” Miller said. “I’ve coached a long time, I’ve had great teams but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an emotionally intense connection that this team has had.”

The Warhawks honor Gray in every way possible. Doing four push ups before practice, his jersey number, and playing with a fight that’s driven by their love for him.

“Really everything we’ve gone through, we’re a totally different team, we’re a young team, just so many emotions in the off season. This couldn’t mean more to us,” Capstran said.

The Warhawks now travel to Fort Worth, Indiana, for a Thursday Final Four battle with Mount Union (Ohio) at 7 p.m.