Knowing that there could never be another chance to beat Quad-Cities rival St. Ambrose, Augustana’s Tayvian Johnson and Brandon Thompson didn’t let that opportunity go to waste.
They combined to record three critical steals in the final minutes which allowed the Vikings to finish off a rally for a 77-69 win in the final game of a series a century in the making.
Augustana limited the Fighting Bees to one field goal over the final six-and-a-half minutes, overcoming a 63-58 deficit to earn the victory at the Carver PE Center.
A basket by Dan Jurgutis and two free throws by Brandon Kunz, who led five Vikings in double figures with 19 points, started a run of 10 unanswered points that decided the game.
The last six points followed a string of four straight turnovers by St. Ambrose that included the steals by Johnson and Thompson.
“We got it going on the defensive end when it mattered. At that point, it was now or never,” said Johnson, who extended the Vikings’ lead to 69-65 on a basket with 3:21 left following a steal by Thompson. “If this was going to be the last time we ever played them, we wanted the win, and it had to happen then. Coach told us we had to play ‘D’ and we stepped it up.”
Citing changes in NCAA Division-III postseason tourney at-large qualification procedures, Augustana officials have decided to no longer play St. Ambrose after this season.
The last of the 94 games the teams have played since first meeting during the 1912-13 season turned into a see-saw affair after the Fighting Bees overcame deficits as large as a dozen points with a second-half surge.
Fighting Bees senior Josh Hutton came off the bench to give St. Ambrose its first lead of the game, following his 3-pointer with a jumper with 11:10 to play to give the Bees a 53-52 edge.
The lead changed hands eight times over the next 3 minutes before another St. Ambrose reserve, Adam Koncel, scored four straight to give the Bees a 63-58 lead with 6:33 remaining.
“We played pretty well in the second half to get back in it, but it seemed like we were stuck on 63 forever,” St. Ambrose coach Ray Shovlain said. “We missed a lay-up, missed a free throw that could have extended a 63-60 lead. Those are little things we’ve struggled with, things we have to get better at.”
After Koncel’s basket, the Bees didn’t score again from the field until Darren Galloway hit a jumper with :15 remaining, part of a 17-point effort out of the junior from Davenport North.
By then, Augustana (6-0) had opened a 75-65 lead.
“This was the first game this season we’ve closed out the way we wanted to,” Vikings coach Grey Giovanine said. “We’ve hung on in a couple of games, but tonight, our guys made a statement.”
Augustana controlled the glass despite losing veteran big man Kevin Schlitter to a knee injury midway through the first half, out-rebounding St. Ambrose, 38-23.
Most of that edge came in the first half as four second-chance baskets as part of a 21-10 rebounding advantage sent the Vikings on their way to a 41-31 lead at the half.
“We came out ready to go, and knowing this was the last time we would play them, it gave us motivation,” Kunz said. “But in the last 3 minutes, we had to dig deep and come up with the energy to finish it off.”