ROCK ISLAND — As good as the finish was for the Augustana men's basketball team Saturday night, it was almost enough to make the Vikings forget about the start.
The Vikings didn't lead Carroll until Nolan Ebel hit a 3-pointer with 8:58 left in regulation to beat the shot clock that was part of a huge 23-4 run that rallied Augie to a nail-biting 66-62 CCIW victory over Carroll at Carver Center.
"I had just missed a couple of 3s and kept telling myself that I have to keep my confidence. I saw the shot clock running down and everybody was looking to me to shoot,” said Ebel. “There's no better feeling in the world than hitting a go-ahead 3 at home.”
That offensive spurt, however, was keyed by the nation's second-ranked team's defense. With Carroll shooting lights-out in the first 24 minutes and the Vikings struggling in every facet, the hosts needed to get stops in order to get the game turned around.
After trailing 42-32, the Vikings got plenty of stops as the Pioneers (4-11, 0-6 CCIW) went the next 10-plus minutes with only one basket and one free throw.
“We guarded so much better in the second half,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine after his club moved to 12-3, 4-2 CCIW. “So much of our offense is generated when we get stops, get run-outs, get blocked shots and get rebounds. We didn't get any of those in the first half. In the second half, our defense was much more dialed in and we played with more energy.”
In the second half, Carroll was just 10 of 27 from the field after going 12 of 21 in the opening stanza and leading 34-27 at halftime.
The Pioneers used both man and a 2-3 zone defense to confound the Vikings those first 24 minutes and had the upper hand in every statistic — including rebounds — to show for it.
Augie got a spark — much of it provided by senior A.J. Dollmeyer as the last big man option off the bench. His interior presence and energy were key as were his four rebounds and two points. Augie also got seven points from freshman Carson Frakes.
Also keying the run was junior guard Chrishawn Orange, who changed the tempo early in the second half with a couple of key buckets. Still, the Vikings trailed 46-40 with 11:53 left. Then Orange (17 points) hit three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, Ebel scored a bucket and then hit his fateful 3 after Dollmeyer grabbed two offensive boards to keep alive a possession.
“A win is a win and we're excited to get that at home, especially after what happened last game (an 86-81 loss to Wheaton),” said Ebel.
Giovanine admitted that his team — still in transition with some new schemes — “didn't play particularly well.” But the Vikings will take the much-needed victory.
“That speaks to the depth of our league,” said Giovanine. “Those guys haven;t won a (league) game and gave us all we could handle. That's what our conference is all about this year.”