The Augustana college men's basketball team had “inside” plans for Saturday's CCIW Men's Basketball Tournament title game against the North Central Cardinals at Carver Center.
The fact that those plans received a big boost from the return of Micah Martin was just an added bonus.
In his first action since tearing the meniscus in his left knee two weeks ago, Martin came off the bench to score 18 points and grab four rebounds. That led Augie's bigs to 45 points as the Vikings survived for a hard-fought 77-74 victory over the Cardinals.
The victory not only avenged last year's tourney title game loss to North Central but also earned the 22-5 Vikings the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III National Championships that will begin next week. With the title and some other losses, Augie coach Grey Giovanine thinks the Vikings will be hosting next weekend's action.
To get to that point with the school's sixth CCIW Tournament title — the third in the last four years — the Vikings got big things from their big men that also included 14 points from forward Brett Benning, 11 points from senior reserve center A.J. Dollmeyer, five from freshman reserve Carson Frakes and two points, two rebounds and two blocks from sophomore center Donovan Ferguson. Led by Benning's eight rebounds, the Vikings held a huge 34-23 rebounding advantage, as well.
“We wanted to go inside, but he obviously gives us so much more presence in there,” said Giovanine. “They've got the big All-American post player in there (Alex Sorenson, 13 points, eight rebounds), but we we've been able to score in there against him.
“AJ was terrific, Donovan's minutes were outstanding. We made a concerted effort to get the ball to the rim.”
That Martin, sporting a brace on the knee for protection, was able to be such a factor was the biggest boost. After showing no ill-effects on the court, he was all smiles after the game.
“It was huge,” said Martin of being able to return after missing just two games. “It was a great experience to be back, especially since I wasn't sure I was going to get back at all this season. To be able to play back at Carver was huge.”
His coach agreed.
“We had no expectation of what we'd get from him,” said Giovanine. “It was nothing short of heroic.”
And those types of efforts were needed in the game that came down to the last possession — as has become the norm for this team. Augie junior Chrishawn Orange missed a jumper with 11 seconds left that could have iced the game. Instead, NCC (19-8) had one last chance. That the ball was in Connor Raridon's hands surprised no one, but his 3-point attempt from the left wing as the final horn sounded barely caught glass.
Raridon led the Cardinals with a game-high 22 points.
Nolan Ebel added 10 points for the Vikings and Orange nine.