SALEM, Va. — Playing for a national championship on the final day of his college basketball career, the only senior in the Augustana lineup can’t think of a more ideal opportunity.
Jacob Johnston also can’t think of a bigger challenge.
The Vikings will have to deal with a Babson team led by Joey Flannery, a 6-foot-5 senior who averages 23.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Regarded by many as the top player in NCAA Division III basketball, Flannery stands between Augustana and its first-ever national title in a 5 p.m. game today.
“They have a great player and a lot of good ones around him that will make us earn it,’’ Johnston said. “When you get to this point in the season, you have to be ready to be at your best. It's the type of team you expect to face in a title game.’’
The Vikings are and the third-rated Beavers (30-2) are not strangers.
Augustana reached the 2015 Division III championship game with a win over Babson, which overcame a 45-20 first half deficit to earn its spot in this year’s title game by handing top-ranked Whitman its first loss in 32 games this season by a 91-85 score in Friday’s other semifinal.
“It wasn’t part of the plan to spot them a 25-point lead,’’ Beavers coach Stephen Brennan said.
Given the size of the comeback and the magnitude of the opponent, Brennan has concerns heading into the title game.
“There was a lot of emotional capital spent on that comeback and you have to worry a bit about whether we can ratchet it back up again to against another good opponent,’’ Brennan said. “But, we have six seniors who I feel like our ready to give it everything they’ve got. There’s nothing left after this. Leave it all on the court.’’
Johnston, who finished with 14 points in Friday's 90-79 semifinal win over Williams, expects the same type of effort from Augustana.
“The way we’ve been playing lately, we’ve got nothing to lose,’’ Johnston said. “We’re ready to give it our best.’’