It's that time of year in MIAC men's basketball. There's an extra buzz in the arena tonight as St. Thomas and Bethel are preparing for their 7:30 p.m. tipoff here at Schoenecker Arena.
We have a live audio webcast available at www.mnsportsnetwork.com
As a bonus, I'll be providing a special live edition of Gene's Blog here from Schoenecker Arena. I hope to have 10-12 live updates in this battle between the MIAC's first- and second-place basketball teams.
It's 7:15 p.m., and the crowd is filtering in.
For the Bethel Royals, there are plenty of incentives:
--Beat a nationally No. 1 ranked team
--Improve their chances for a first-round playoff bye and No. 2 seed
--Continue their hot streak which now stands at six wins in their last seven games
--End the Tommies' 41-game home conference win streak
--And give the BU seniors their first win over St. Thomas after eight previous losses in the last four seasons
For St. Thomas, a win keeps alive a chance for a 20-0 MIAC regular season, continues the Toms' consistent play, and helps keep them atop the national poll. In today's NCAA West Region Coaches poll, UST is still seond behind Stevens Point, and Bethel is eighth.
One question: Will the Toms stay hungry now that they've already secured the MIAC championship? Being a senior-led team would seem to help avoid a letdown, but we'll find out soon.
There's a good chance these two teams could meet again in the playoffs later this month. Last year, UST trailed Bethel 38-30 at halftime of the MIAC playoff semifinal here at Schoenecker and came back to win 69-68.
7:25 p.m.: A crowd approaching 1,100 is filing in. Not bad considering Bethel is hosting a key women's game with the Tommies tonight in Arden Hills, and there's UNC-Duke on the tube.
BU senior ace Tim Madson is averaging 20.3 ppg in his last six games vs. St. Thomas.
A bigger stat for tonight? Free throws. BU leads the MIAC in free-throw percentage at 74%.
Five weeks ago in Arden Hills, UST topped BU 73-64. The Toms shot 58% from the field but were badly outshot at the foul line. UST made 4-of-9, and BU sank 22-of-29.
Getting ready for the national anthem and lineups...
Last time they played, Bethel scored the first basket but never led again. UST has won its last 30 games when leading at halftime, so BU would help itself with an early spurt.
Joe Scott jumps center for the Toms -- I love it.
BU gets offensive board and Moberg putback makes it 2-0
19:05 left in 1st: Lonnie answers with trey for Toms, 3-2 lead.
Joe Scott trey, it's 6-2 Toms.
Joe Scott trey again -- it's 9-2. 17:45 to go.
Fast pace favors Tommies. Madson gets stripped twice, then gets foul at other end when he tries to do the same.
Toms T'over. 9-2 lead with 17:07 left in half.
Crowd still coming in
BU's Vavra hits a trey -- UST now 9-5.
Al McCoy monster block under the hoop to save an easy BU basket. Royals turn it over on moving screen. Foul on Madson, his second. Four fouls on BU, none on Toms, Madson comes out.
Moberg inside two, 9-7 Toms.
Lonnie misses on drive -- UST has missed four easy shots.
Vavra layup ties game 9-9, 15:00 to go.
Toms start to sub, now resting all five starters... Still 9-9 with 13:00 to go.
Toms haven't scored in 5:00
BU drives for two, leads 11-9, 12:34 left in half.
Another Toms turnover (fourth of game) -- BU shoots two FT, makes one of two, 12-9 lead 12:24 left in half.
UST's Alex Healy tries long trey bounces but rims off
Toms still have five starters on bench in this 10-0 Bethel run. Teddy Archer reverse layup makes it 13-11.
Moberg nice pass underneath to Lang for basket, BU back up 15-11, 11:00 to go.
BU's Laugen makes two FT, now 16-11.
Vavra picks up third foul with 10:36 left.
Laugen buries a trey -- BU up 21-11, now on 19-2 run with no points yet from Madson.
Lonnie Robinson makes one FT, Toms have all starters back with 8:20 left in half.
Scott try rims out, knocked down, no foul, BU rebound.
Toms scored 41 in first half of last meeting with BU, have just 12 in first 13:00 tonight.
BU gets basket and foul, 7:12 left, leads 24-12. Moberg now has seven points.
UST timeout. Toms shooting 23% from field, BU has 17-7 edge in rebounding. Toms came out fast but has slumped, and bench didn't score much. BU has 12-point lead with no points from Madson
Bethel on 29-5 run... Madson hits long trey and adds two FTs, Moberg scores. 31-14 lead. First time Toms have trailed by double digits all year.
4:16 left in half, UST trails 31-18 as Scott hits long trey.
Moberg at line for 1-and-1. He's been big, but he missed front end. Toms down 13, now down 11 on long two by Tyler Nicolai. Madson comes back in with two fouls and 2:28 left in half (Vavra already has three fouls).
Madson just about get third foul then Viau called for foul on loose ball... Fans of both teams are starting to work the refs.
2:51 left in half, BU leads 33-20 as Madson sinks two. BU 8-of-8 at line, UST 2-of-5.
Madson almost gets third foul again, Peltier drives over him for basket.
Scott steal and DUNK and a Moberg foul away from ball. BU lead down to 33-24 and Toms shoot two with 10th BU foul. Moberg has two fouls. Joe Scott has 11 points.
Tempers flaring.. Moberg gets tied up and throws a forearm... UST gets offensive foul and can't convert. 1:00 to go,
Nate Robertson drives baseline and dunks, 37-26, 43 seconds left.
Viau short miss and foul over back. BU shoots two, Madson 8-for-8, lead now 39-26, 29 seconds left.
Brady Ervin's third try at the buzzer goes in, BU leads 39-28 at halftime... BU fans thought shot came after horn... Just fourth time this season UST has trailed at half (Concordia-Moorhead home, Conc.-St. Paul away, LaCrosse home)
Toms shooting 36% from field, 4-7 at line,, BU shooting 52% from field, 12-14 line. BU has 22-11 rebounding edge, and 11 turnovers to Toms eight TOs. Bench points even, 8-8
Women's score at halftime, Toms lead 37-26 on road at Bethel.
St. Mary's leads Hamline men by double digits at half, SJU leads Augs by three.
Second half starts, BU turnover underneath, Scott hits trey... BU miss, here come the Toms, foul on Madson, his third. Lonnie makes two FT, 18:50 left, BU lead down to 39-33
Vavra makes two baskets, lead back to 10.
Lonnie drives lane for two. 43-35, 17:55 to go... BU turnover on press... But Viau gets third foul at other end on fast break.
Great crowd, fans wanting to really get into it if Toms get within five.
Laugen nice dish inside to Nate R for two.
Al McCoy first basket of game for Toms, lead down to eight.
BU travel at other end.. BU time out.
Two fast break baskets for Toms, one free throw lead down to 45-42.
Madson almost gets fourth foul on silly reach.
Laugen hits trey, BU adds fast-break basket, and now aUST turnover... BU leads 50-42 with 13:21 left.
Laugen hits another long trey from corner, BU lead by 11
BU misses two shots, but has regained momentum... UST calls time out. 12:21 to go, 53-42...
Women update: UST leads BU women, 62-39
Toms score two baskets, Madson gets old-school 3-point play, Madson hits long trey as clock expires, BU leads 59-47 with 9:26... Madson now has 17 points, 9-9 free throws.
Laugen hits runner, lead back to 14 with 8:52 left
Viau sweet pass to McCoy for inside two, 8:39 left, lead 61-49.
UST six fouls in half, BU five, and bonus looms.
Toms need to pick up defense in half court.
BU's Tyler Brown hits open 12-footer
Viau answers with two, lead 63-51 7:51 left... UST timeout.. Toms up to 48% FG but Bethel is at 55%.
Free throws down the stretch will favor BU, so Toms need to D it up and get some steals... BU forced to call timeout to avoid 10 second call, BU has only two timeouts left.
Madson another nice fade for two -- he's playing like league MVP.
Joe Scott long 2, Nicolai long three... it's 65-56 with 6:00 left, crowd getting loud.
Nicolai for Threeeeee! Toms down 65-59, 5:20 left.
Madson draws foul, back to line where he hasn't missed... seventh team foul... advantage BU down the stretch. Madson now 11-for-11 at line, lead back to eight points.
Tommie miss, BU fastbreak two on layup, lead back to 10.
Toms' Anders Halvorsen basket and foul. Makes FT. 4:38 left, BU 69-62 lead. It's getting fun.
BU turnover on press, Laugen foul, Nicolai shoots 1-and-1... makes one misses but Viau gets a putback two. 69-65 with 4:30 left.
BU turnover, Scott hits tthreeeeeee! It's loud in here..... BU timeout, 4:03 left, BU 69-68 lead
Scott has 21 points... Toms on 17-4 run in last 3:30
Nicolai for threeeee. UST leads 71-69 with 2:56 left.
Bethel's Nate Robertson gets big putback two, tie 71-71.
Laugen makes 1 of 2 free throws, BU leads by one.
Al McCoy drives hard for two, 73-72 Tommies, 1:46 left... UST takes timeout.
Crowd is up, big possession for BU... loose ball, called jump ball, possession Toms.
UST has ball and lead with 1:16 left, on 22-7 run.
Toms miss long three.. here comes BU
Fans standing, 45 seconds to go... now 11 on shot clock, 31 seconds left in game... BU takes last timeout.
Fun basketball game...
Six on shot clock, out of bounds BU ball. UST timeout.
Huge possession with BU down one, 25 seconds to go, just six left on shot clock, BU inbounds.
Madson in trouble in corner with Lonnie all over him... Heaves up trey that misses long... Scott rebound and BU foul with :18 to go.
Scott shoots 1-and-1... misses, scramble, BU ball out of bounds. BU ball with 13 seconds left, no BU timeouts left...
Madson fades for the lead, misses... Scott rebound, fouled, :02.6 seconds left, Scott shoots two.
Scott makes both, lead to three, here comes BU, no time outs, need a miracle... Moberg gets good look from 18 feet, No Good! Toms hold on, 75-72...
Nicolai has 10 points in game-closing 24-7 run for Toms.
UST now 22-0, 17-0 MIAC, home MIAC win streak to 42, MIAC overall win streak to 20.
Bethel played an excellent game for the first 35:00, showed it can be a dangerous postseason team, but was burned by Toms' late 3-point shooting
--Photos, box score and game summary now on Tommiesports.com... If tonight is any indication, it's going to be a fun February and March for MIAC hoops.
--Tommies get 44 of 47 second-half points from starters, and UST bench gets outscored for one of few times this season (17-11).
--Wednesday's 17-point comeback, including game-closing 16-3 run over final 4:30, marked the first time all season St. Thomas trailed by double digits. UST's biggest previous deficit in conference play this season was six points.
--Wednesday was the Toms' third major comeback win over the last two seasons. In Nov. 2007, the Tommies used an 8-3 run in the last 53 seconds to force overtime and eventually won 83-82 to end Winona State's 36-game home win streak. Winona was 90-2 in a three-season stretch and won Division II national title in 2006 and 2008. Last Dec. 30, UST trailed at Division II Concordia-St. Paul by three with 13 seconds left, but Tyler Nicolai's three-pointer tied the game and UST won in overtime on a late McCoy basket.
--When Lonnie Robinson scores nine or more points on his career, the Toms are 30-2; when sophomore Tyler Nicolai scores seven or more points on his career, UST is 33-0; when B.J. Viau has played in last two seasons, UST is 45-4 (36-2 in conference); When Al McCoy scores eight or more points the last two seasons, the Toms are 21-0; when Joe Scott scores 17 or more points in his two seasons here, UST is 20-1.