Canon O'Heron had a game-high 20 points to lead UW-Stevens Point to a 76-56 win over nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh during the semifinal round of the WIAC Men's Basketball Championship (presented by Culver's) on Thursday (Feb. 21) in Kolf Sports Center.
UW-Stevens Point (18-8), seeded fourth in the six-team league tournament, never trailed after scoring the first 10 points of the game and maintained a double-digit lead for the final 16:24 of the contest.
The Pointers, who entered the contest with the best scoring defense in the NCAA Division III at 60.2 points per game, held the Titans to their lowest scoring output of the season.
Top-seeded UW-Oshkosh (23-3), ranked fourth in the country by D3hoops.com, will learn Monday (Feb. 25) during an online selection show whether it receives an at-large berth into the 64-team national tournament that begins March 1. The Titans, last year's Division III runners-up, are seeking their program-record fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA postseason.
UW-Stevens Point, the defending league tournament champion, advances to play in the WIAC Championship title game Saturday (Feb. 23) at third-seeded UW-Platteville (17-10). The Pioneers moved to the final with a 61-51 road victory over second-seeded UW-La Crosse (17-9). The winner of the WIAC tournament earns the league's automatic berth into the 64-team Division III Championship.
O'Heron shot 8 of 14 from the field as the Pointers outshot the Titans, 52.6 to 35.7 percent, from the floor as UW-Stevens Point snapped UW-Oshkosh's 16-game home winning streak.
Ethan Bublitz added 14 points and six rebounds for the Pointers, who also received 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench from Brandon Spray, and 11 points and 10 rebounds from reserve Blake Ehrke.
UW-Stevens Point held advantages of 37-29 in rebounds, 12-4 in assists, 9-11 in turnovers, 3-2 in blocks and 6-2 in steals. The Pointers are just the third team in the last 28 games to outrebound UW-Oshkosh.
UW-Oshkosh shot a season-worst 11.5 percent (3-26) from 3-point range and matched their season low in rebounds after heading into Thursday ranked ninth in the nation with a +9.6 average rebounding margin and 10th with a +17.1 average scoring margin. The Titans led the WIAC in scoring (83.9), field goal percentage (.475), 3-point percentage (.377), made 3-pointers (251), rebounds (40.5) and assists (15.6) per game, field goal percentage defense (.411), blocks (111) and a 1.46 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Ben Boots paced the Titans with 19 points and two steals while Connor Duax had 13 points and five rebounds and Jack Flynn and Adam Fravert nine and eight points, respectively. Boots moved into second place in program history with 253 career 3-pointers and seventh on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,601 points.
UW-Stevens Point's 10-point run to open the game featured five points from Nate Dodge, who finished with nine points and a pair of steals. UW-Oshkosh committed seven turnovers and attempted just two field goals during the first five minutes of the game before a Duax layup cut the Titans' deficit to 10-2 at the 14:36 mark of the first half.
UW-Oshkosh pulled within 23-18 with six minutes to play in the first half following a pair of free throws by Flynn, but UW-Stevens Point went into intermission with a 28-22 lead.
UW-Stevens Point scored seven unanswered points to extend its lead to 39-27 with 17:28 left in the game. Back-to-back layups by O'Heron later upped the Pointers' advantage to 39-27, and UW-Stevens Point led by at least 10 points the rest of the way.
The Pointers built their largest lead of 22 points on two occasions during the final 95 seconds as Spray split two free throws for a 74-52 lead with 1:35 to go, and a layup from Dodge increased the advantage to 76-54 with 22 seconds remaining.
UW-Stevens Point, which committed just two turnovers in the second half, went into the game ranked second in the nation with 9.5 turnovers per game.
UW-Oshkosh had swept the regular season series against UW-Stevens Point for the first time since 2008, defeating the Pointers by scores of 78-68 on Jan. 9 in Stevens Point and 77-70 on Feb. 9 in Oshkosh.
The Titans were attempting to play in the WIAC tournament championship game for the fourth time in the last five seasons. UW-Oshkosh secured league postseason titles in 2002, 2003 and 2016.
UW-Stevens Point is seeking its league-leading 10th WIAC postseason title since the tournament debuted in 1999. The Pointers claimed conference tournament championships in 2000, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2018.
Photo bySteve Frommell, D3Photography.com