When Augustana men's basketball coach Grey Giovanine called for a line change with 17:31 left in the second half of Wednesday's CCIW showdown with North Central to replace his sluggish starting five, words from senior Donovan Ferguson resonated as he sat in front of the Carver Center scorer's table.
“Let's go, this is embarrassing,” said Ferguson to his four teammates as they waited to check in.
Those words could do nothing to change what was transpiring on the court as the Cardinals rolled to their fourth straight victory over the Vikings.
A tremendous first half on both ends by nationally 14th-ranked NCC buried the 25th-ranked Vikings. The league-leading and preseason favorite Cardinals came in and shot lights out in the first 20 minutes and opened a 21-point halftime lead that Augie couldn't overcome in a 70-55 setback.
“We just got beat by a terrific team,” rationalized Giovanine after a rare home shellacking that included a 21-0 NCC run around halftime. “That was a pre-season Top 5 (ranked) team in the country and clearly the best team in our league right now.”
That showed on both ends of the court in the first 20 minutes. NCC hit 14 of 25 field goal attempts and more remarkably 9 of 13 from 3-point range against the league's top 3-point defense. At the other end, Augie went over five minutes at one stretch with just one bucket and had trouble getting consistently good looks against the conference's second-stingiest defense, which came in allowing just 65.5 points per game.
“It was important that we got off to a good start and we did,” said NCC coach Todd Raridon. “We were fortunate that in some cases they missed open shots and some cases we did a good job contesting open shots. I thought we did a nice job at the offensive end moving the basketball because it's hard to get to the basket on them. I thought we did a nice job of kicking out and finding the open guy.”
NCC shot 45% from the field for the game (23 of 51) and even better from 3-point range (12 of 25, 48%).
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“We talked for three days about them being the best 3-point shooting team in the league,” said Giovanine.
The victory moved NCC to 18-4, 11-2 in the league. Augie, the only home team to fall in Wednesday play, dropped to 16-7, 10-4, but retained sole possession of second place ahead of Illinois Wesleyan (15-7, 9-4 CCIW) and Elmhurst (18-5, 9-5 CCIW). IWU beat Elmhurst 85-73 on Wednesday.
While the Cardinals were piling up the points three at a time, their defense was frustrating the Vikings, who were 21 of 50 from the field and 7 of 22 on 3-pointers.
Pierson Wofford, Augie's leading scorer for the season, didn't get a shot attempt until he hit a bucket with 4:48 left in the first half. Matt Hanushewsky hit a 3 and Wofford followed with another triple to pull the Vikings within 35-25 with 3:19 left.
That was as close as Augie got the rest of the game as NCC closed the half with 11 straight points.
Two Matt Cappelletti (22 points on 4 of 9 3-point shooting) 3s and two Connor Raridon buckets stretched the margin to 56-25 as Giovanine called for that first line change.
“We broke down constantly,” said Giovanine. “Our defense wasn't very good and when they break you down and you're scrambling, they have guys spotted up all over the place. They are very good at that.”
Wofford finished with a team-high 12 points and Jack Jelen added 10. Austin Elledge was held scoreless and Micah Martin had only six points and no rebounds in 17 frustrating minutes in a tough matchup as he was triple-teamed every time he touched the ball in the paint.
“Our good players didn't play good,” said Giovanine. “Austin Elledge didn't score a basket and didn't have a point. To win big games, your good players have to play good. Micah Martin had six points, Lucas Simon had four. … We're not going to win that game.”