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February 22, 2013

Defense leads way to CCIW title game

Freshman Hunter Hill helped spark the Vikings to a 53-47 win over third ranked Illinois Wesleyan on Friday, February 22 in Bloomington, Illinois. Hill scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds and had an assist. He was also five of six from the free throw line. Augustana will now face fifth ranked North Central for the CCIW Tournament championship on Saturday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Shirk Center.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - The odds were certainly not in Augustana's favor on Friday, February 22 in the semi-final round of the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin tournament in Bloomington, Illinois at the Shirk Center. That didn't deter the Vikings as they used a smothering defensive effort to beat Illinois Wesleyan 53-47 and advance to the championship game on Saturday, February 23 against North Central.

Veteran head coach Grey Giovanine's team lost twice during the regular season to the league champion Titans, who were 21-4 heading into the game and ranked third in the latest NCAA Division III national poll according to Augustana turned the tables on Friday night and defense was the key. The Vikings held Illinois Wesleyan to just .250 from the floor on 14-56 and a stunning .200 (5-25) from three point range. In the second half the Titans shot just .172 (5-29) from the field and .167 (2-12) from three point range.  

Augustana wasn't exactly scorching the nets with its .373 (19-51) field goal percentage and the Vikings had their troubles from the free throw line also where they were just 11 of 20 (.550). But when they had to make plays they certainly did.  

Illinois Wesleyan jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the early going but freshmen Jawan Straughter (Plainfield North HS, Bolingbrook, Ill.) got at tip-in and fellow frosh Ben Ryan (Washington HS, Washington, Ill.) scored the next two baskets to tie the game at 8-8. In the first half the score was knotted six times, including at intermission where the two teams left the floor with the score 25-25.  

The defensive slugfest continued in the second half and with just under eight minutes (7:50) to play in the game the contest was tied 37-37. Augustana trailed 37-34 with 8:38 left when Ryan scored at 8:24 to make it a one-point game (37-36). Freshman reserve Hunter Hill (Byron HS, Byron, Ill.) nailed a free throw at 7:50 to tie things at 37. His second free throw gave the Vikings the lead (38-37) and they would never relinquish it.  

Following Hill's two charity tosses, sophomore Danielius Jurgutis (Downers Grove South HS, Darien, Ill.) hit a three point field goal at 7:18 to make it 41-37. Ryan knocked down a couple of free throws at 6:15 and the lead was 43-37.  

The Titans' Parker Musselman broke the string with a single free throw at 5:50 to trim the margin to five (43-38). Senior Brandon Kunz (Lake Zurich HS, Lake Zurich, Ill.) scored at 5:33 to push Augustana ahead 45-38 and Jurgutis drilled a three at 4:11 to make it a 10-point cushion (48-38) at 4:11. Jurgutis' three punctuated a 14-1 run over a period of 4:13 and that proved to be the difference.  

With 1:40 to go Hill hit two more free throws and the Vikings still led by 10 (50-40). The Titans cut the lead to five (50-45) on two free throws from Pat Sodemann at 1:21 and a three point field goal from Bryce Dolan with just :43 left. However, Jurgutis hit two free throws at :40 to make it 52-45. Dolan scored on a layup with :16 left to bring the home team to within five (52-47) but Hill got one free throw to fall at :11 to account for the final score.  

Ryan was the lone Augustana player in double figures with 12 points and he also grabbed 10 rebounds. Jurgutis and Hill scored eight points each. The Vikings held a 42-41 edge in the rebounding department with Kunz leading the way with 11.  

Andrew Ziemnik led Illinois Wesleyan in scoring with 11 points and in rebounding with eight.  

Augustana, which is now 19-7 on the season with all of the losses coming to teams ranked in the top 20 in NCAA Division III, will square off against North Central at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 23 in the Shirk Center. The Cardinals, 23-3 and ranked fifth in NCAA Division III, fought their way to the title game by virtue of a 59-50 win over 20th ranked Wheaton in the first semi-final. Illinois Wesleyan is now 21-5 after the loss to the Vikings.  

Giovanine's club is in the championship game of the CCIW tournament for the fourth time. The Vikings won the tournament in 2007, 2008 and 2011 and are the only team in the league to qualify for the tournament for all eight years of its existence.