ST. LOUIS — Augustana men's basketball coach Grey Giovanine was on the cusp of collecting career coaching victory No. 500 on Sunday.
However, a cold offensive stretch late and an untimely technical turned the tide and cost the Vikings in a 73-70 setback to hosting Washington University in the top 20 showdown at the Wash-U Field House.
The nationally 15th-ranked Bears (6-1) closed the contest with an 11-5 run on the 17th-ranked Vikings (4-2) in the final four minutes that erased a lead the Vikings worked hard to get.
“Two top 20 teams, tough road matchup,” Giovanine said. “That was the biggest, strongest most physical front line that we'll play against and they really whipped us on the boards. They had 19 offensive rebounds and that's usually where we are really good. We just didn't do a good job rebounding the ball.”
The Bears finished with a 34-24 rebounding edge and turned that into a 19-8 advantage in second-chance points as the Vikings had only seven offensive rebounds.
The biggest turn of events came late, though, and one of those Wash-U offensive rebounds factored mightily. The Bears had missed two shots and a scramble for the loose ball ensued after the second miss. The Bears got a hand on it enough to call for a timeout right in front of their own bench. As the scrum on the floor was breaking up, Augie senior Donovan Ferguson kicked the ball into some Wash-U players as they huddled for the timeout.
A technical was called and Jack Nolan hit both free throws to stretch the Bears lead to 68-65 with 1 minute, 26 seconds left. Working the clock, Nolan (game-high 28 points) then hit a jumper with 1:11 left to make it 70-65.
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“Just a lack of concentration,” Giovanine said. “There's a loose ball that we don't get; the ball is kind of bouncing around after the whistle blows and Donovan kind of puts his foot on it and bounces it into a kid. Just a really bad play that cost us big time. Donovan (seven rebounds, three blocks, two points in 15 minutes) had played a terrific game, but there's just no room for error to make a mental mistake like that against a top 20 team on the road.”
Down 70-65, senior Pierson Wofford (18 points, three assists, two rebounds, two blocks) answered that Wash-U four-point possession with a triple to pull the Vikings within 70-68 with :58 left in regulation.
The dagger came 20 seconds later when starter Matt Nester drilled his only bucket of the game, a 3-pointer, to make it 73-68.
“We rotate off and leave a guy open that we don't think is going to make one and he makes a big one,” Giovanine said.
Jack Jelen answered with a tear-drop shot in the lane with :24 left for a 73-70 game. Wash-U reserve Payden Webb then missed the front end of a one-and-bonus with :14 left, but the Vikings had trouble finding an open shooter on its ensuing possession and freshman Jack McDonald came up short on a step-back 3 from the top of the key.
There were a number of good signs for the Vikings in this one. Despite not being particularly sharp, they battled back in the second half with a 10-0 run to take a 59-56 lead with 8:16 left. That spurt included a three-point play by Micah Martin (seven points, five rebounds), a Wofford drive, Jacob Pauley 3-pointer and a Jelen baseline jumper.
“We really hadn't played great and just kept battling and hung in there and came back and got the lead,” Giovanine said. “To their credit, they're a preseason top 10 team and playing at home and have a couple of great players who made some tough shots.”
Those players were all in the starting five as Nolan led that group to all but six of Wash-U's points. The six bench points also came in the first half.
Conversely, Augie had 41 bench points. Senior Austin Elledge, in his first healthy outing of the season, dropped in 14 points in 24 minutes and Pauley added 11.