By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- George Diekelman (Sr. – Stevens Point, WI/SPASH) capped off his Blugold career with a game winning lay-up as the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire men's basketball team defeated No. 19 UW-Stevens Point, 55-54 Saturday night at Zorn Arena.
The second home upset of a ranked opponent capped off an exciting senior night game, but the celebration was short lived. The Blugolds needed a win and a UW-La Crosse loss to earn the sixth seed in the upcoming Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tournament. The ladder did not occur, as the Eagles went to UW-Whitewater to earn a 60-55 victory.
Chris Duff (Sr. – Walker, MN) had it going early on, as he scored the first six points for UW-Eau Claire. Then it was Diekelman who would match, with six quick points of his own. The Blugolds seniors scored the first 17 points of the game.
The Blugolds held a 22-18 advantage just under the six-minute mark when Adam Link (So. - Marshall, WI) hit a 3-pointer. Link would strike again from downtown with less than a minute left in the first half. The strong first half performances off the bench from Link and Clay Kujawa (Fr. – Greendale, WI) would push the lead to 34-25 heading into the half.
In the second half, the Pointers would start on a 7-2 run to trim the lead to just four points. Link answered the call again with another 3-pointer. UW-Stevens Point would remain close and following a 3-pointer from Matt Koerner, they would tie the game, 41-41.
After regaining their lead, the Blugolds saw it quickly slip away as a 3-point play from Koerner and a free-throw from Brett Tauber would again tie the game. Tauber would give the Pointers their first lead in the second half with a 3-point play.
With the game tied at 48, Stevens Point's Drew Fredrickson hit a 3-pointer to quiet the gym. The silence was quickly broken as Duff matched with a 3-pointer of his own.
With the Blugolds leading 53-51, Fredrickson would again silence the Blugold faithful with a 3-pointer. Following a Pointer timeout, UW-Eau Claire gave Duff a chance to match again with a three-pointer. Duff was given plenty of space to knock down his signature corner 3-pointer, but missed.
The Blugolds were forced to put UW-Stevens Point into the bonus. Nelson, an 87.1 percent free-throw shooter, went to the line and missed the front end of the foul shots. Diekelman pushed it to half court and Head Coach Matt Siverling called a timeout to draw up the winning play.
Diekelman quickly went to work and went right down the center of the lane for a layup giving the Blugolds a 55-54 advantage with 7.8 seconds left.
The Pointers would move through the light press, but MJ Delmore would lose the handle of the ball and just before it went out of bounds, UW-Stevens Point was awarded a timeout as Delmore dove to regain possession. The game clock originally expired as the play happened, but after conferring the officials awarded 1.3 seconds to the Pointers.
The drama was for nothing though as Blake Wacholz (So. – Lakeville, MN/South) would step in and pick off the inbounds pass to seal the win.
Siverling was thrilled to be on the winning end during the final seconds.
"That was a classic," Siverling said. "Both teams scoring in the 50s is a mark of a classic dogfight. Both teams fought hard in this physical game, the guys will be sore tomorrow."
The excitement of a senior night win, quickly turned hanging heads as the Blugolds found out the score of the UW-La Crosse game.
The Blugolds (12-13, 4-10 WIAC) should hold their heads high, as finishing the season against a ranked opponent is not a bad way to end the season.
Eau Claire was led by Duff who had 14 points and seven rebounds. Diekelman added 13 points, three assists and three rebounds.
Following the game, Matt Siverling had high remarks for his seniors.
"We have leaned on these guys so much," Siverling said. "George, Chris and Dan [Becken] helped lead us all year. They have been a part of the program for four years, they put a lot of work in and they all made big impacts for us."