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Falcon men drop WIAC title game

UW-River Falls senior Brennan Witt puts up a reverse layup late in the Falcons' WIAC Tournament opener against UW-Whitewater Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Don Page Arena. Witt was fouled on the play and hit one of two free throws to extend UWRF's lead to 67-63 with 4:02 remaining and the Falcons pulled away for a 79-68 win. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
UW-River Falls senior Austin Moldenhauer puts up a shot against UW-Whitewater's Derek Rongstad in the second half of the Falcon men's basketball team's 79-68 victory over the Warhawks in the first round of the WIAC Tournament Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Don Page Arena in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

The UW-River Falls men's basketball team came up short in its bid for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 59-44 loss at UW-Stevens Point in the WIAC Tournament Championship game Sunday, Feb. 25, in Stevens Point.

The fourth-seeded Falcons advanced to the title game with a 79-68 win over No. 5 UW-Whitewater Wednesday, Feb. 21, at home and a 71-66 victory over regular season champion and top-seeded UW-Platteville Friday, Feb. 23, in Platteville.

Stevens Point (19-8) hit 7-of-11 three-pointers in the second half Sunday to erase a two-point Falcon lead at halftime and earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Platteville (22-4) and UW-Oshkosh (20-7) earned at-large bids while the Falcons finished the season 18-9 behind only the Pioneers, Pointers and Titans in the final conference standings.

Neither team shot well in the title game with the Falcons connecting on 33.3 percent of their shots (15-of-45) and the Pointers shooting 38.3 percent (18-of-47). But ten of Stevens Point's 18 field goals were from behind the arc and Point hit 13-of-14 free throws compared to 8-of-13 for River Falls to earn the 15-point victory.

Brennan Witt was the only Falcon starter in double figures with 11 points while Julian Jackson came off the bench to score eight of his 10 points in the first half. Alex Herink finished with nine points and six rebounds while Clay Seifert had eight points and six assists.

Two nights earlier at Platteville, Devin Buckley banked in a 25-footer as the shot clock expired to put the Falcons up by four, 70-66, with 14 seconds left and Austin Heidecker came up with a steal with six seconds remaining as the Falcons knocked off the top-seeded Pioneers, 71-66.

UWRF opened up a 12-point halftime lead and were up seven, 37-30, at the break before the Pioneers cut it to one midway through the second half. Platteville led 66-63 with two minutes remaining but a free throw by Witt and a three-pointer by Matt Keller put UWRF on top for good, 67-66, with under a minute left. Buckley's desperation shot at the end of the shot clock gave UWRF a four-point cushion, and Heidecker made one of two free throws following his steal with six seconds left to ice the win.

Herink scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the first half before fouling out late and Witt finished with 17 points while Keller hit four three-pointers and finished with 15.

UWRF raced out to an 18-point lead midway through the first half in its playoff opener against Whitewater before holding on for a 79-68 victory Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Page Arena.

The Falcons hit 13 of 15 shots in the first ten minutes, including a pair of three-pointers by Buckley and one each by Herink and Keller, to open up a 31-13 lead. Whitewater made it a 12-point game, 45-33, at halftime and pulled to within one, 64-63, with just under five minutes remaining but Witt scored the next five points to extend UWRF's lead to six, 69-63, with 3:22 left and back-to-back layups by Julian Jackson in the final minute made it a double-digit game again.

Witt led five Falcons in double figures with 20 points and Buckley scored 17 while Keller had 12, Jackson scored 11 and Seifert had 10.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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