Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The St. Thomas men’s basketball team had a big day in a lot of ways Sunday, beating Augsburg 92-65 to win the MIAC Playoff title.
It’s the third straight championship for the Tommies (26-1), who enter the NCAA Division III Tournament as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. St. Thomas was the only MIAC team to get in the tournament with the conference’s automatic bid.
St. Thomas has now won a record 12 MIAC titles, including seven of the last eight. The Tommies 27-point win was also the largest in the history of the conference tournament, which goes back to 1985. It was a particularly special day for senior post Tommy Hannon, who came back for another season after missing last year with a knee injury. He finished with 22 points to lead all scorers in the win and surpassed 1,000 career points in the process. He’s the ninth player in St. Thomas history to have at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
Will DeBerg finished with 20 points, including hitting 6-of-8 from three-point range, and was part of two key stretches that let the Tommies pull away. He hit a perimeter shot to give St. Thomas a late first half lead after trailing for much of the first 20 minutes. Zach Riedeman hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Tommies a 41-35 lead at the half.
DeBerg got hot in the second half, hitting five straight 3-pointers in a seven minute stretch to fuel a 24-12 run that gave St. Thomas a 65-47 lead. The Tommies’ depth wore down Augsburg after the Auggies got off to a hot start in the first half.
St. Thomas shot 58 percent for the game in the win, including 60 percent from three-point range. The Tommies pulled away in the second half with an impressive defensive effort where their press got Augsburg out of its game and got the Auggies tired in the most pivotal stretch of the game.
St. Thomas has assured itself of at least one home game for the tournament, but could get as many as three home games after winning both the MIAC regular season and playoff titles. The NCAA had its selection show Monday afternoon, and St. Thomas will host a first-round game on Saturday against Aurora University of Illinois (22-6), which won the Northern Athletic Conference tournament title.
If the Tommies beat Aurora, they would host the winner of Wheaton and St. Norbert in the second round of the tournament. A potential rematch with UW-Steven’s Point could also be on the horizon if things play out the right way.
The format for the NCAA Tournament is different this year. Instead of four teams heading to one spot for a weekend regional, there will be one game per weekend for three weeks. The eight teams left in the 62-team field then travel to Salem, Va., normally the site of the Final Four, for the national quarterfinal and semifinal games. The two teams to come out there and reach the national championship will play the same weekend of the Division I Final Four in Atlanta, Ga.
St. Thomas will enter the Division III tourney on a 10-game winning streak. The Tommies are 12-0 over the last four seasons at home in the MIAC and NCAA Playoffs. They’re also 39-3 in the new Schoenecker Arena since it opened in 2010.
A reminder that St. Thomas faces Aurora of Illinois on Saturday in St. Paul. The time of the contest has yet to be announced, but the Tommies Blog will preview that contest later this week.