Maybe BR-1 UW-Stevens Point head coach Bob Semling should inquire about playing more of their home games at Salem Civic Center, because it obviously suits the Pointers. Semling’s team defeated Augustana (Ill.) Saturday afternoon to take home the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball National Title and improve to 8-0 at the home court of the D3 Final Four.
The 70-54 victory gave Stevens Point their fourth men’s basketball national championship in school history, all of which have come in the last 12 seasons. It is also the 12th title for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) since 1984, by far the most of any Division III conference. They join UW-Whitewater, UW-Platteville and North Park as the only programs with at least four titles.
The game was a perfect microcosm of the way Semling’s team has won all season. They played tight defense, were selective and efficient from beyond the arc, and shared the basketball brilliantly — all the things that epitomize UWSP and Bob Semling basketball. Many forget the 10th-year head coach is in the midst of his second stint in Stevens Point, a program he’s been a part of since before any of his current players were born.
He was an assistant on Bob Parker’s staff from 1988-1995 and also under Jack Bennett during the back-to-back title years of 2003-04 and 2004-05. Semling would become head coach months later. Now, a decade later, Semling is the winningest coach in program history and one of the most popular men in north central Wisconsin.
Many expected a brutal, strategic, and tight game between the BR-1 Pointers and BR-2 Vikings, and while it was certainly physical and strategic, fans were not treated to a back-and-forth affair. UWSP built a 35-23 halftime lead, largely due to a 12-0 run, and proceeded to blow the game open in the second half. Augustana mounted an impressive comeback to pull within nine after seeing the deficit swell to 21 points but were not able to close the gap in the final minutes as they sought their first crown in three attempts.
Unsurprisingly, the Pointers were led by their reliable starting five, one that combined to play 182 of the game’s 200 player minutes. Austin Ryf and Joe Ritchay, Stephen Pelkofer, and Alex Richard led the scoring by combining for 58 points on 22-for-40 from the field, including 9-for-15 from beyond the arc. Jordan Lutz would add nine points, all of which came on three-point land on 3-for-5 shooting. Their seven-man rotation managed to cut down on the turnovers that almost cost them dearly in their last two games (30 combined turnovers). They still gave up 15 to Augustana — 49 forced turnovers in their last three games.
With the victory, Semling enters an elite club of college basketball coaches to win two titles as head coach and another two as an assistant. His deceptively tricky schemes on both ends of the court allowed the folks of Stevens Point, Wisconsin to celebrate another championship.