by DOUG HENNES
Twenty seconds remained in the game, St. Thomas led Calvin 63-62, but Calvin had the ball. Every one of the 1,820 fans packed into Schoenecker Arena knew what was going to happen next.
Bryan Powell, a substitute guard who averaged 11.6 points a game for the Knights, had scorched the Tommies for 31 points and surely would take the last shot. He dribbled across the midcourt line and waited until the clock was under five seconds to go before driving toward the lane. He pulled up, fired a jumper from 15 feet . . . and missed.
Zach Riedeman grabbed the rebound for St. Thomas and was fouled with 0.7 seconds to go. He missed both free throws, but a desperation Calvin pass after a timeout hit the ceiling scoreboard at midcourt and the game was over. Final: St. Thomas 63, Calvin 62.
With the win, the top-ranked Tommies (29-1) advance to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division III playoffs in Salem, Va. They will play No. 8 Williams (Mass.), an 84-75 winner over Virginia Wesleyan, on Friday at a time to be announced on Sunday.
The winners of Friday’s four games will play Saturday, with the final two teams advancing to the championship game April 7 in Atlanta.
It will be St. Thomas’ third trip to the Elite 8 round in five years. The Tommies had an undefeated season end in 2009 at the hands of eventual national champion Washington University of St. Louis, but prevailed in 2011 over Augustana on its home court in the quarterfinals and went on to win their first national title seven days later.
Resiliency -– a word that Coach Johnny Tauer has used all season long to describe his team –- came up again and again in the locker room and in a post-game interview.
“This was a grind-it-out slugfest, and we were fortunate to come out on top,” he said. “We were so resilient tonight. We battled it out for 40 minutes.”
No. 12 Calvin (26-4) put an early scare into St. Thomas, making its first three shots to go up 7-0. The Tommies bounced back with a 12-2 run to jump ahead 12-9, but the Knights scored nine in a row to lead by six. Powell had seven straight points during that run.
St. Thomas answered with its own 8-0 run -– Erik Tengwall and Will DeBerg 3-pointers sandwiching a John Nance jumper -– to regain the lead at 20-18. Noah Kaiser finished off the half for the Tommies with two layups in the last 40 seconds to give them a 31-26 lead.
Center Tommy Hannon got things off to a good start in the second half with a steal, and DeBerg canned his fourth 3-pointer of the game. The shot energized the crowd and the Tommies rolled off a 10-0 run featuring DeBerg’s fifth and final 3-pointer to lead 41-26 just 2:41 into the half.
It was time for Powell to go to work again.
With his team down 43-29, Powell scored 11 straight points -– nine on three treys in a row -– to bring the Knights to within 43-40 at the 13:34 mark. St. Thomas extended the lead to eight on a Marcus Alipate four-point play -– a 3-pointer and free throw after he was fouled.
But Calvin kept coming back. A Powell layup followed by a steal and layup by Tom Snikkers gave the Knights the lead 55-54 with 5:22 to go, culminating a 29-13 run from their largest deficit.
PHOTOS: Top to bottom, Noah Kaiser, Will DeBerg, Erik Tengwall
After Calvin’s Tyler Dykstra’s dunk tied the game at 60-60, the Tommies moved down the court and Nance passed the ball to Kaiser in the left corner.
“I faked a pass to Will because I knew the defense would go to him,” said Kaiser, a senior from Henry Sibley. “I was wide open. I was fortunate: I thought I missed the shot, but everybody on the team said they thought it was going down.”
Go down it did for a 63-60 lead with 1:13 left. It was only Kaiser’s sixth 3-pointer of the season, in 19 attempts over 22 games. He was 14 of 26 last year from behind the arc.
Powell hit two free throws on the ensuing possession -– his 30th and 31st points of the game -– to cut the St. Thomas lead to one. Tengwall missed a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, giving Calvin and Powell the ball for a final shot.
“He got by me,” Tengwall said, “and all I could think was, ‘Oh my goodness, he’s hit every shot, he’s gonna hit this one. When he missed and Zach got the rebound, I was shocked.”
Tengwall was one of several Tommies who took turns trying to stop -– or at least slow down -– Powell. He made 11 of 17 shots, including six 3-pointers, in scoring half of Calvin’s points.
“You can’t really stop a guy like that when he gets on one of those streaks,” Tengwall said. “You hope you can contain him and alter his shots, and maybe he’ll miss one.”
Like the last one.
DeBerg led St. Thomas with 16 points and Tengwall joined him in double figures with 12 and picked up five assists. Kaiser had nine points, and Nance and Alipate eight each.
Tauer wasn’t happy about his team’s abysmal performance at the free-throw line, making only 9 of 22 attempts, nor its 15 turnovers. Calvin also had 15 turnovers and outrebounded the Tommies 33-28, having come into the game No. 1 in Division III rebounding margin at 12.
Another interesting statistical matchup: St. Thomas, tops in the nation in field-goal percentage at .527, shot .524, including 10 of 20 from 3-point range. Calvin was No. 2 in field-goal defense at .364.
St. Thomas has held its five postseason opponents to an average of 61 points. It was the 22nd game in a row that UST opponents have been held under 70 points.
The win extends the Tommies’ record over the last five seasons to 134-16, the best in Division III, and they are 42-3 since new Schoenecker opened in 2010. They also are 15-0 in on-campus postseason games over the last five years, including a 7-0 mark in NCAA playoff games.
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