In Saturday morning's practice, the Augustana men's basketball team barely had enough healthy bodies to get in a good workout in prep for North Park later that day.
But when the senior night contest tipped off, the hosts showed their ability to fight through adversity — and a hot-shooting bunch from Chicago — to roll to a 77-60 CCIW victory at Carver Center.
The win for the nationally 10th-ranked Vikings (19-5, 11-4 CCIW) was not nearly as easy as the final score indicated but served as a good contest to recognize Dylan Sortillo (illness) and A.J. Dollmeyer (back), both of whom were among those not able to make it through the morning workout.
“It just made us lock in more knowing that we had to pick up that weight,” said junior Brett Benning of the absences weighing on the team's approach. “With those guys being out, we had to be locked in that much more.”
Benning sure did his job in that regard, finishing with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. Much of his damage came in a key late first-half spree.
With NPU hitting 7-of-10 first-half 3-pointers, Augie held just a 29-22 lead when sophomore center Donovan Ferguson blocked a shot on the defensive end that led to Sortillo's second of his three 3s. That gave Augie its first double-digit lead of the game at 32-22 with 5:50 left in the half.
From there, Benning rattled off Augie's next 10 points — including a 3-pointer and a three-point play — that gave the hosts a 42-30 halftime edge.
It was game-over after that as NPU (5-19, 1-14 CCIW) hit just 3 of 14 3s in the second half and the hosts clamped down for a win that kept them in sole second place in the league as Illinois Wesleyan rallied from a first-half deficit to throttle Carthage 92-63 in Kenosha to secure a share of the league title.
“I was really proud of our guys tonight,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine, who also had to watch minutes for the ailing Carson Frakes, who left the gym in a walking boot to protect an injured ankle.
Starting center Micah Martin (meniscus injury) was already out, so piecing together a game plan was difficult.
“I thought our big guys that came in … Roman Youngblut played great defense, Donovan Ferguson had five blocked shots and A.J, who hadn't practiced all week because of a bad back, came in and got four layups,” said Giovanine.
The Vikings also got tremendous production from the usual suspects. Nolan Ebel led Augie with 17 points, Chrishawn Orange added 16 and Sortillo 11 to go with Dollmeyer's eight off the bench.
NPU, which finished 10-of-27 on 3s and just 22-of-58 from the field, was led by Colin Lake's 20 points.