ELMHURST – The Augustana men’s basketball team had hosting Elmhurst on the ropes late in the first half of Wednesday’s CCIW battle at R.A. Fagenal Hall.
Then the Vikings gave the Bluejays a bit of deja vu that the hosts didn’t want any part of. Augie started the second half on a 14-1 run in the first five minutes that gave the Vikings enough impetus for a key 92-79 road victory.
On Saturday, North Central was outscored 15-0 to start the second half in an 82-70 loss to North Central. On Wednesday, the Bluejays showed plenty of fight when it looked as if the game was decided early. After trailing by as many as 21 points after two Lucas Simon 3s, the Bluejays pulled as close as six points at the 6:15 mark of the game. That was when an offensive switch led to a pair of huge Brett Benning 3-pointers. The Vikings then sealed the victory with 14 of 15 free-throw shooting in the final 3:59.
“Those were big momentum changers,” Augie coach Grey Giovanine said of Benning’s two daggers that helped him lead Augie with 18 points. “They made a run and were getting confident and we were struggling to score. We moved Brett to the baseline from the high post. He was open, but he had to make them and rose up and did just that.”
It was not only their 12th straight victory, but also a statement game for the nationally second-ranked Vikings (14-1, 6-0 CCIW). The win was against their closest competition in the league and dropped Elmhurst to 9-6, 4-2.
“You win championships on the road and our guys know that; you lose them at home,” said Giovanine. “For us to get a big road win like this against another contender really separates us. It puts us two games ahead of everybody.”
The Viking had almost a perfect start to the game, at one point late in the opening half making 15-of-20 field-goal attempts, including 8-of-10 3-pointers against Elmhurst’s zone defense. Still, it took a 12-0 run late in the half to get to a 48-40 halftime lead.
“They were really committed to playing zone and weren’t going to let us beat them inside,” said Giovanine. “The shots that they gave up were perimeter open shots. When you have good shooters taking good shots, you’re going to hit a good percentage.”
Those numbers only cooled off a bit as the Vikings finished the game 29-of-50 (58-percent) from the field, including 13-of-25 (52 percent) from 3-point range. Augie was also 21-of-24 from the free-throw line.
“When you shoot it like that, you’re energized and you’re confident,” said Giovanine, noting Simon (11 points, 3-of-5 on 3s) and Joe Kellen (1-2 3s) hitting big buckets to help spur the victory. “We had guys making 3s that you’re not thinking are going to make a bunch and they responded.”
Again, the Vikings showed tremendous offensive balance with four starters in double-digit scoring along with Simon’s 11 off the bench.
Benning and Nolan Ebel led the way with 18 points. Chrishawn Orange and Pierson Wofford added 17 each. Jake Rhode led Elmhurst with 34 points.