FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – Defense keyed a 20-point victory for the top-seeded Marian University men's basketball team as it held visiting No. 4 Aurora University to a season-low 51 points in a Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament semifinal win to advance to the championship game Saturday against No. 7 Edgewood. The Sabres are just a win away from clinching an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
Marian (21-6) trailed just once following an Aurora (18-9) layup to open the game. The Sabres answered with an 11-0 run and never looked back, leading by 17 at halftime and keeping the advantage above double-digits the rest of the way. The packed Sabre crowd proved to be electric once again.
Five Sabres reached double figures, led by freshman Josh Creed's 14 points and 10 rebounds. Mike Keller added 12 points, while Cody Veleke and Alex Stecker chipped in 11 apiece, followed by Jeff Harris' 10. Marian shot over 47 percent on the night, but it was all about the defensive effort for the hosts.
The Sabres held the Spartans to just 37.7 percent from the floor and outrebounded them 43-26. Marian scored 13 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds and outscored the Spartan bench 31-16.
Much like the first half of their quarterfinal win over Wisconsin Lutheran last time out, the Sabres were connecting from long distance, using the three-ball to build a first half lead the gave them the momentum to carry through. In the midst of their 11-0 run early in the first half, Veleke and Stecker combined to knock down two three's.
With 8:40 left in the first half, Sam Koslowski connected on his second in a row from distance to put the Sabres up 21-8. The senior finished with six, but added six rebounds and two assists. A pair of Creed free throws at the 2:21 mark gave Marian its largest lead at the time of 39-19 before taking a 40-23 advantage into the locker room.
In the second half, the Spartans upped the intensity on the defense end and forced the often sure-handed Sabres into a few of their 20 turnovers.
With 9:28 remaining Kyle Pilmer sprinted on a fast break and threw down a two-hand jam over Veleke, who committed the foul as well. Pilmer had a chance to cut the deficit to 10 points, but missed the free throw and the Sabres held a 53-42 lead.
Marian then put an end to the 6-0 Aurora run with a 5-0 run of its own. The lead would balloon to 23 points when Harris hit a step-back jumper, just inside the arc, to make it 67-44 with just 3:23 remaining to seal the deal.
The win marked Marian's first in a NACC semifinal in their second-ever appearance, losing to Lakeland in overtime by a point back in 2008. For Aurora, it was just their second semifinal loss in seven trips.
Edgewood (13-14) proves to be the "Cinderella Story" of this year's tournament as they upset No. 3-seeded Lakeland tonight following a first round win over No. 2 seed MSOE in the quarterfinals. Marian defeated Edgewood in both meetings earlier this year.
A trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament will be riding on the outcome of Saturday's championship game. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. inside Sadoff Gymnasium.
(78-79), (79-80), (80-81), (82-83), (83-84),
(87-88), (89-90), (90-91), (98-99), (99-00),
NCAA Tournaments (2)