The Augustana men's basketball team proved Friday night that it's more about how you finish a game than how you start one.
The nationally ninth-ranked Vikings fell behind by double-digits to Greenville in the first four minutes of their NCAA Division III Tournament opener at Carver Center and never led until less than 10 minutes left in regulation.
However, showing that patience and poise can win out over a frantic attack and fouls, the Vikings closed the game on a 30-18 run to pull out a 123-111 victory over the Panthers.
The victory moves the 23-5 Vikings into tonight's second-round game against 19-9 Hope, a 93-91 victor over Augsburg in Friday's opening game at Carver Center.
Tied at 93, the Vikings took their first lead on a nice move in the paint by Micah Martin at the 7:59 mark of the second half.
Augie then followed with five free throws to win the race to 100 against a team that came in averaging 126 points per game.
The Vikings were 33-of-46 from the free-throw line as the Panthers were whistled for 34 fouls and were seemingly fine with that despite it slowing the pace.
From there, the Vikings added to the lead as the Panthers (19-9) wilted down the stretch and missed shots that had been falling. Augie finally was able to grab some defensive rebounds, too.
Augustana had six players score in double-figures, led by Nolan Ebel's game-high 26. Joe Kellen added 20 and Dylan Sortillo 19, while Chrishawn Orange and Brett Benning each tossed in 18. Sophomore big man Donovan Ferguson had a huge double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds in helping Augie erase a 10-rebound halftime deficit and lose the board battle just 51-50.
“It's a unique preparation, it's a unique style and system that you don't see very often,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine. “Just excited to come out with a win. The thing I was most proud of with our guys was they kept battling and competing and stayed composed and came back and got a great first-round win.”
It wasn't easy as the Vikings fell behind by as many as 17 in the first half and still trailed 67-54 at halftime.
But some nice halftime adjustments — especially on defense as the Vikings ditched a first-half zone — turned the game in the second half.
“Our coaching staff and scout team did a great job of preparing us, but it's hard to totally prepare because of how bizarre it is,” said Ebel, who also left the game with a gash in his head that was held together with super glue. “I think at halftime, we really started to realize how we could beat it, attacking up the middle and kicking it out. Once we made those adjustments. We felt a lot more confident.”
After hitting just 3-of-9 3s in the first half, the Vikings finished eight of 20 and also started finishing at the rim when the Panthers' pressure broke down.
The finish was exactly opposite what Greenville has done all season, according to coach George Barber.
“When we typically get to the last 10 minutes, we can get teams when their legs get tired,” he said. “That didn't happen tonight.”