Basketball falls short in Sweet Sixteen

The last few weeks have been an exciting time for the St. Olaf men’s basketball team. The Oles had been working extremely hard to prepare for the third round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship. The team traveled to Rock Island, Ill. to face Marietta College on Friday, March 13.

The Oles had the opportunity to upset the 12th seeded Pioneers, who hail from Marietta, Ohio. Despite leading throughout the contest, the Oles were overcome by the Pioneers, eventually falling by a score of 72-79.

The Oles started the game strongly, taking a 36-29 lead into the half-time break. A strong and intense struggle between the teams then ensued. In total, St. Olaf had 10 turnovers while Marietta had nine.

In the second half, the Pioneers made a comeback and took the lead. St. Olaf led by as many as 12 in the second half, but the Pioneers used a 19-5 run to take a 65-61 lead with 5:12 left. The Oles refused to give up, bringing the lead back to a single point twice in the dying minutes. Unfortunately for the Oles, the Pioneers were able to hold the lead for the remainder of the game. The Oles, who only turned the ball over twice in the first half, were plagued by turnovers in the second as Marietta forced eight in the final 20 minutes.

Despite strong performances from Ben Figini ’16 and Sterling Nielsen ’15, who combined for 32 points, the Oles they fell by a scoreline of 72-79. Austin Majeskie ’17 and Riley Aeikens ’16 also had strong performances with 11 points apiece. Unfortunately, this loss ended St. Olaf’s strong run in the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship.

The NCAA appearance was the second straight for St. Olaf, who fell in the first round of the tournament last season. The Oles’ adventure into the Sweet Sixteen was the first in program history and was accompanied by a team record of 23 wins.

The season in not quite over for Nielsen, who was one of 18 NCAA Division III senior players to be selected to play in the Reese’s Division III College All-Star game. The game will be played on March 21 in Salem, Va. The selection caps a stellar season for Nielsen, who was an All-MIAC, MIAC All-Defensive and All-West Region second team selection.

Figini was recognized for his strong season, also being named to the All-West Region second team. Figini led the Oles in scoring 16.9 ppg, rebounding 5.8/game and shot 56.5 percent from the floor.