By DOUG HENNES
WHITEWATER, Wisconsin – John Tauer struggled to describe how his St. Thomas men's basketball team lost to Augustana 77-74 in the NCAA Division III playoffs Friday night, and he finally settled on three words:
"A perfect storm."
Trailing by eight points with 41 seconds to go, Augustana made three layups and two free throws to tie the game at 74-74, then got the ball back after an offensive foul by the Tommies with 3.7 seconds remaining. Guard Chrishawn Orange dribbled down court and hit a 3-point shot from the top of the key at the buzzer for the win.
The loss ends the season of the defending national champion Tommies (19-8) – the second time in three years that they have lost on a buzzer-beater in the first game of the playoffs. Northwestern of Roseville knocked off St. Thomas 71-70 with a 3-pointer as time expired in 2015.
"Obviously, we are incredibly disappointed by the loss," Tauer said. "The end is certainly hard to explain – a confluence of events that we'll try to figure out and probably won't."
Tauer said he couldn't be prouder of the way St. Thomas battled back from first-half deficits of seven points to outrebound a taller Augustana squad, and called his players "incredibly selfless and resilient. They stayed together."
Four seniors – guards Grant Shaeffer and Will Dunn, forward Ryan Johnson and center Jordan Burich – saw their careers come to a sudden end. They finished with a 95-21 record (.819) over their four years. Schaeffer had 12 points and seven rebounds in playing all 40 minutes while Burich had 12 rebounds and five points.
"Looking back, I am tremendously proud," said Shaeffer, who was named the MIAC Player of the Year this week. "A lot of emotions are running through me right now. I have a lot of pride in my heart."
Boll keeps Tommies close
Augustana keyed on Shaeffer from the outset, often double-teaming him and denying him the lane, so Ryan Boll took over. The junior forward scored 16 points in the first half on 4 of 7 shooting and eight free throws, and also hauled down six rebounds.
"The team kept getting me the ball inside," Boll said. "The ball just happened to be in my hands in the right situations."
The Vikings took seven-point leads four times, the last at 27-20, but a Boll layup capped a 7-0 run and tied the game with 2:39 left in the half. Augustana took a 36-32 lead into the locker room on another buzzer beater, this one a 2-pointer, by Orange.
St. Thomas struggled offensively in the half, shooting only 34 percent and missing all nine of its 3-point attempts. Shaeffer was held scoreless for the first 10 minutes and didn't make his first field goal until the 16-minute mark. Augustana also had a goose egg in treys, going 0 for 5 in the half.
Another Boll layup tied the game at 37-37 early in the second half, and then both teams started heating up from outside. The first 3-pointer of the game, from junior guard John Veil, gave the Tommies their first lead at 40-39.
Six straight lead changes ensued before St. Thomas took control on five more 3-pointers – two from freshman Elijah Hannah, two more from Veil and one from Connor Bair – to lead 68-61 with 3:47 to go. The Tommies grabbed their biggest lead at 74-66 on a Veil jumper with 41 seconds left.
And then the perfect storm happened:
• 0:35: Augustana's Nolan Ebel makes a layup, is fouled and misses the free throw, but a teammate grabs the rebound.
• 0:28: Ebel makes another layup.
• 0:26. Orange steals the ball after the Tommies' inbound pass and makes a layup.
• 0:17: Dunn is fouled but misses both free throws.
• 0:10: Ebel is fouled and makes both free throws to tie the game at 74-74.
• 0:03.7: Veil, bringing the ball across the half-court line, is called for an offensive foul.
• 0:00: Orange hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
• On the game, Augustana outshot St. Thomas 47 percent to 40 percent. The Vikings made seven more field goals but St. Thomas led 20-11 at the free throw line and had 43 rebounds to Augustana's 39. Orange led his team with 20 points, and three other Vikings were in double figures.
• The Augustana win avenged two Elite Eight home losses to St. Thomas in 2011 and 2016, when the Tommies went on to win national titles. The Vikings were ranked No. 1 going into last year's matchup in Rock Island, Ill., but St. Thomas won 86-76. "To be advancing tonight with a win over the defending national champions is a real thrill," Augustana coach Grey Giovanine said.
• The loss broke the Tommies' 11-year streak of 20-win seasons. This was their 18th NCAA playoff appearance, including 12 seasons in a row, and they have a 28-17 (.622) all-time record.
• Shaeffer finished his career with 1,294 points, 306 rebounds and 371 assists, second in school history behind Mark Buri's 389 assists. The three-year starter played in 16 career post-season games.