The Augustana College men's basketball team has been comfortable having to overcome second-half deficits to rally for victories this season.
On Tuesday evening, the Vikings trailed the entire second half against Elmhurst but had no rally in them as they dropped an 89-73 decision to the Bluejays at the Carver Center.
The loss to a very physical and aggressive bunch of Bluejays ended Augie's win streak at five as the Vikings dropped to 5-3 overall and in CCIW play.
“Physically, that was a tough ballgame for this young group,” said first-year Augie coach Steve Schafer. “It showed. We got pushed around for 40 minutes. The one thing I’m proud of with this group was we hung in there until the last three or four minutes.”
Three of the most telling stats were EU’s 43-28 rebounding edge that led to 14 second-chance points that were part of 32 points in the paint. The second was Elmhurst’s ability to knock down the 3-pointer. The Bluejays finished 14 of 27 (51.9%) from behind the arc and included some very timely bombs as well. The third was that this was the most points Elmhurst has scored all season and the most points the Vikings have allowed.
The game took its most fateful turn in one roughly two-minute stretch in the first half.
Augie led 23-21 when sophomore Justin Bottorff (10 points, six rebounds) scored on a drive with 9:15 left in the half.
From the 8:07 mark to 6:18, Elmhurst scored on four straight trips, netting three points each time down the court as Augie missed three shots and had a turnover. Lavon Thomas (24 points, 13 rebounds) started the spree with a 3-pointer, Ocean Johnson (13 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep) added two more triples, and Dominic Genco (15 points, five assists) closed the run with an old fashioned three-point play with 6:18 left to put the Bluejays on top 33-23.
“We were taking poor shots and not doing our job in transition and allowing runouts and had break downs in the half-court that allowed easy shots,” said Schafer of that game-turning stretch. “We had possessions where we don’t score and then don’t fill our tank defensively. When you’re not making shots, you have to buckle down defensively, and tonight we didn’t do that.”
The Vikings pulled within 42-35 at halftime, but got no closer than five on one occasion the rest of the way as the Bluejays moved to 5-1 on the season and in CCIW play with their fifth straight victory.
The matchups were bad for Augie, and when the Bluejays got some confidence, it was impossible to stop them and their physical style.
“That’s what the CCIW is all about,” said Augie sophomore Daniel Carr of the physical nature of the game. “For most of our guys that was the first real CCIW game they have had in terms of physicality, toughness, rebounding. I think we really didn’t match them in any of those areas and that’s why we got out-played.”
Carr led the Vikings with a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double. Carter Duwa added 15, trying to do much of his damage on drives against the over-playing defense, but getting pin-balled around every trip into the paint.
Augie kept the deficit in single digits for most of the early part of the second half until the 15:28 mark when it fell behind 12. Carr’s 3-pointer pulled Augie to within 60-51 with 12:54 left, but the Bluejays extended it to 10 on a Johnson free-throw with 12:19 left and it was never under 10 again.