(Photo courtesy of SCACsports.com)
SEGUIN, Texas - The fifth-seeded University of Dallas men's basketball team pulled another upset, this time taking down top-seeded Southwestern University, 91-84, on the campus of Texas Lutheran University in the first Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) semifinal game on Saturday evening. The victory lifted the Crusaders to their program's first-ever SCAC men's basketball championship game.
The Crusaders were scorching hot shooting 61.1 (11-18) percent from the field in the first half and finished the game at 56.1 (23-41) percent. This included a hot 52.9 (9-17) percent from beyond three. However, they did most of their damage at the free throw line hitting 36-of-41 (87.8 percent), which was one shy of matching the team's single-game record.
Despite the lower seed, Dallas trailed only two times throughout the game. Jake Holmes put the Pirates up with the first points on a layup. After a pair of baskets by Logan Fruhwirth (Waynesville, Ohio) and John Russell (Bossier City, La.) gave UD a 4-2 edge, Andrew Puhl countered with a trey to lift Southwestern a final time just past two minutes into the game. A layup by Joshua Nunn (St. Louis, Mo.) with 17:04 put the Crusaders back up, and despite a couple ties the regular season co-champions were unable to regain the lead the rest of the way.
The Crusaders were led in the opening stanza by Dustin Mathis (Fort Worth, Texas) with 14 points. He had two of the team's three trifectas and put in six free throws. Russell reached double figures with 10 points and led the team with five rebounds that half. The Crusaders led by as many as eight, which was held a final time that half when Mathis nailed a triple to make it 27-19.
Southwestern rattled off the next seven points to make it a one-point game with four points from Brandon Alexander. Two free throws by Jai Love (St. Louis, Mo.) ended the scoring streak for the Pirates. Southwestern tied things at 34 and 36, but the Crusaders had a pair of free throws each time to not allow a lead change. Dallas went 17-for-18 at the charity stripe in the half. Six of those came in as many looks to push the Crusaders in front 42-36.
Dallas did get forced into 12 first-half turnovers and only held onto a 42-40 lead at the break, after the Pirates scored four points in the last eight seconds.
The momentum was on UD's side out of the break as Michael Wambsganss (Denver, Colo.) and Nunn drained three-pointers to go up six.
A free throw by Trenton Garrett cut a tight score to 52-50 with 15:31, but Dallas surged with 12 of the next 16 points over the next five minutes. They stretched the lead to double-digits on a three by Love with 10:44 remaining. Another big trifecta came from Wambsganss with just under five to play that extended Dallas' biggest lead of the night to 16 (76-60).
Southwestern did not go quietly, as the number one seed used an 11-2 run over the next stretch to reduce the margin to single-digits. Wambsganss had an answer with a jumper for the team's last field goal at 1:19 to give him 16 points in the second half. SU made it as close as five (89-84) on a three-pointer by Joel Martinez with 10 ticks left.
The top free throw shooting team this season that was in the tournament showed why tonight, as the final 11 points for Dallas came at the charity stripe. This included the final nine in the last minute with five by Russell, two by Love, and the last two by Nunn.
A quartet of Crusaders recorded double figures to help boast a team-best in points on the campaign. Wambsganss and Mathis each scored 19 points to lead the squad. The top-scoring tandem also hauled down team-highs on the boards with six apiece. Mathis matched a personal-best in points for the third time this year. Wambsganss was 4-of-5 from downtown. Russell eclipsed double-digits for the second time this tournament with his highest scoring output against a league opponent this season. He also had five rebounds. Love rounded out the double-digit scoring unit by tying a career-high 17 points from the bench. Both Love and Russell were key contributors to Dallas' successful free throw shooting with 12-of-13 and 9-of-10, respectively.
The Crusaders are 7-0 this season when four players reach double-digits in the scoring column and have done so in both outings this tournament.
Dallas outrebounded the Pirates 31-29 and held a 24-12 edge for points in the paint. UD's bench also outscored Southwestern by 10 (25-15).
Alexander notched a game-high 29 points. The SCAC Men's Basketball Player-of-the-Year went perfect at the line with 12 free throws and matched Jake Holmes with six rebounds to tie the high for all players. Joel Martinez was the other player in double-digits for Southwestern with 18. Alexander and Martinez each had 3 made trifectas, which the team totaled 10.
However, the Pirates went 43.1 percent (25-58) from the floor, 38.5 percent (10-26) from three, and 70.6 percent (24-34) in free throws. Southwestern scored a 23-16 advantage on points off turnovers, with UD being forced into five more turnovers (20-15).
There were 60 combined fouls with Dallas being charged two fewer.
Southwestern drops to 14-12 overall, while the Crusaders improved to 11-16. Both opponents Dallas defeated this weekend won at least 10 games during league play. Dallas is the first number five seed to reach the SCAC Championship since Sewanee achieved the feat in 2005.
Afterwards, second-seeded Texas Lutheran University prevailed 64-60 over sixth-seeded Trinity University. This sets the stage for the SCAC Championship Game at 2 p.m. The Bulldogs did share the SCAC Regular Season Title with an identical conference record of 11-5 with Southwestern University. The host school was given the second seed by virtue of the tiebreaker.
TLU swept the season series against the Crusaders including the first meeting at Memorial Gymnasium, 79-60. These teams will meet for the third time in the tournament, with each matchup occurring in UD's previous trips. The Bulldogs won both, including the most recent at Colorado College in 2017-18 in the SCAC quarterfinals.