To say it was an interesting opener for the Augustana men's basketball team Saturday night is an understatement.
The 17th-ranked Vikings, with a number of new faces and some of the same faces in different roles or on the bench, opened the season with a 74-67 setback to defending NCAA Division III national champ UW-Oshkosh at a packed Carver Center.
The result was not what the home fans are used to seeing and neither was the play that was sloppy at times. But that was to be expected from the rebuilding Vikings.
“The thing I have to keep in mind is that we had four guys starting for the first time in their career,” Augie coach Grey Giovanine said. “We had seven or eight guys playing their first college basketball games (at this level).”
All three freshmen on the varsity roster — starter Jack McDonald and reserves Daniel Carr and Matt Hanushewsky — saw time, as did newcomers Jacob Pauley and Justin Bottorf as Augie played 11 players but were without without returning lettermen Austin Elledge (strained groin), Lucas Simon (recovering from knee surgery) and Micah Martin (coach's decision).
Big man Donovan Ferguson (three points, two rebounds) played just 11 minutes before being sidelined by what Giovanine said was a bruised knee.
“I liked the way we competed and the effort that we gave,” Giovanine said. “The execution was not very good.”
That was almost across the board from start to finish despite the Vikings opening the game with the first six points.
Augie finished just 4-of-16 on 3-pointers and 13 of 22 at the free-throw line. Augie had a difficult time attacking the Titans' tough man defense. Junior Jarrett Tribble had the most success, leading Augie with 17 points, but finished minus-15 in the plus/minus category.
McDonald played 25 minutes at the guard spots and finished with 11 points. Former Rockridge prep Carson Frakes, just back into action after an ankle injury, added 10 points in 21 minutes.
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However, the veterans who were expected to add more were quiet. Fifth-year senior Pierson Wofford had six points and six rebounds in 23.5 minutes to go with the others who didn't play.
“They're extremely well-coached,” said Oshkosh coach Matt Lewis of the Vikings, knowing this was a marquee game ahead of another battle on Tuesday at North Central. “They play extremely hard and you always know you're going to get a really good game from them, that it's going to be incredibly physical and they are going to attack the glass. You just know when you come and play Augustana that it's going to be a battle.”
Once the Titans got the lead, they never relinquished it.
The game was tied just once — that at 34 when Pauley (four points, two rebounds) hit a bucket in the paint and Tribble scored on a drive with 17:30 left in the second half.
As they did in the first half, the Vikings suffered through some long scoring droughts — one six-minute stretch in the first half and another five minute dry spell before rallying to trail just 31-28 at halftime.
After the tie at 34, the much more veteran and poised Titans scored 13 straight with the help of a pair of 3-pointers from freshman reserve Will Mahoney. For the game, UW-O was 11-of-26 from beyond the arc as opposed to Augie's 4-for-16 deep shooting.
Trailing 47-34, the Vikings refused to fold and battled back with an 11-2 run, getting as close as 49-45 at the 12:23 mark when McDonald hit a 3, Roman Youngblut, Wofford and Frakes added buckets and Carr made two free throws.
But a couple more 3s allowed the Titans to create some separation again and go up by 12 before holding on.
Oshkosh had five players in double-digit scoring. Veteran front-court starters Adam Fravert and Jack Flynn led the Titans with 14 points each. Fravert also had a game high 11 rebounds, leading the Titans to a 41-40 board edge.
“I was proud of our guys, they really competed,” said Giovanine. “... This can be a really valuable experience, if we grow from it.”