SALEM, VA— With a 90-79 victory in a back and forth game, the Augustana College Vikings (24-8) ended the Williams College Ephs' (23-9) improbable run to the Final Four and secured a spot against Babson in the National Championship Game.
Augustana head coach Grey Giovannine said the team is "thrilled to be advancing." "Hats off to Williams," he added, "that game was exactly what we expected. It was a great game between two outstanding teams."
In order to advance over a talented Augustana team, Williams needed to recreate the magic of their first two NCAA tournament games that saw them shoot near 70% from the field and just as well from three. Instead, it was the Vikings who came into the national semifinal on fire from the floor, and the Ephs were ice cold.
Despite only committing three fouls and an incredible one turnover against the stout defense of Augustana in the first half, the Ephs' 35.5% shooting percentage, including making only one of their first ten three-point attempts, kept them in the red against the pinpoint accuracy of the Vikings.
Crishawn Orange and Jacob Johnston led Augustana, both racking up double digits in the first half and missing only one shot between them. Most importantly, however, the Vikings shot 66.7% from behind the arc, and made six of their first seven threes.
With two resounding blocks by Micah Martin on the Ephs' first two possessions, Augustana announced that their defense would be a force to contend with, and while Williams adjusted, three balls from Orange, Johnston, and two from Dylan Sortillo catapulted Augustana out to a double-digit lead in just the first few minutes.
Daniel Aronowitz acknowledged after the game that "it took as a few minutes to find our rhythm and settle into the game." Kyle Scadlock added, "They have two great defenders, and we had to figure it out the hard way."
Defense gave the Ephs' some wind, however. Augustana' eight first half turnovers led to opportunities for the Ephs to eat into the Viking lead. This allowed the Ephs' deficit occasionally to dip into the single digits, but Augustana seemed to have an answer for every incipient run Williams looked to make. One of those runs, however, ended the half, sending Williams to the lockers down by just eight.
Three-pointers by Bobby Casey and Dan Aronowitz narrowed the lead to margin to nine, though Nolan Ebel answered with a layup in the final minute to put the score at 42-31. After forcing a shot clock violation with less than two seconds in the half, Williams in- bounded the ball to Aronowitz who heaved a shot from half-court buzzer beater that banked off the glass and into the bucket.
Seemingly capitalizing on the momentum of Aronowitz's miracle shot, Williams opened the second half with a 10-0 run, though not, as is usual for the Ephs, through reliance on the three. Instead, the Ephs drew several fouls and sank their foul shots; the team was 21-24 on the night and perfect from the stripe for much of the second half.
After trailing by as much as fifteen in the first half, a pair of foul shots by Cole Teal took a 44-42 lead for Williams with 16:46 to play. Augustana jumped right back in, however, and Crishawn Orange knocked down buckets on back-to-back possessions to knot the game up. Orange said after the game that "we knew Williams would make a run and that we just had to withstand it and make a run right after."
Two Donovan Ferguson free throws, which he followed up with a steal to set up Brett Benning for a floater, gave the Vikings a modest four-point lead which they preserved for the next several minutes. Twice, three-pointers from the Ephs threatened this lead, but each time the Vikings were able to respond in kind and hold on to their slim but persistent edge.
Down 71-65, Dan Aronowitz got a layup off a baseline drive, Cole Teal hit a foul shot, and Aronowitz got a putback off his own miss to cut the Ephs' deficit to just one. Just as Williams looked to continue this momentum shift into the final minutes, Augustana launched into their own run, starting with a pair of free throws by Nolan Ebel, a very tough post bucket through a triple-team by Micah Martin, and then a huge three from the corner by Brett Benning to seemingly instantaneously create an eight-point lead.
Williams looked to recover as Dan Aronowitz made an acrobatic layup through a foul, but three more points from Crishawn Orange, including a long two-point jumper to give the Vikings an 81-72 lead with 1:11 to play, seemed to seal the game for Augustana. Williams resorted to fouling, and though Aronowitz and Cole Teal converted a few possessions in the final minute, the Viking maintained their late lead from the free throw line to win the game by 11 points, 90-79.
After the game, Williams head coach Kevin App summed up the game, saying "They came out smoking hot to start the game, we fought back and kept competing. Down the stretch they made more plays, and hats off to them."
Daniel Aronowitz ended his career with his best game of the year int erms of scoring, leading all scorers with 29 points including five three-pointers, while Kyle Scadlock contributed 16 points and a team-high five rebounds. Aronowitz, one of two seniors on this team, finishes as the 14th all-time scorer in Williams history, with 1,362 career points.
"Dan's been doing it all for us since I've been here," said the third-year Williams coach. "As a senior, you hope to go out with a win, but if not you hope to be able to say you left it all out there and you competed the best you can, and Dan definitely did that tonight."
Crishawn Orange topped the score sheet for Augustana, scoring 21 points on an 8-9 performance from the floor, While Brett Benning and Nolan Ebel each contributed 17 points. Dylan Sortillo added 15, as well as a game-high nine rebounds.
Augustana shot well from beginning to end, finishing the game with a remarkable 62% performance from the floor and 56.3% from three-point. Williams, meanwhile, made 40.3% of their attempts and only eight of their twenty-nine shots from long range (27.6%). The Vikings will contend with the Babson College Beavers for the NCAA crown on Saturday night at 6PM.
Coach App asserted his pride in his players, saying, "I'm really proud of our guys for competing the whole forty minutes and all season to get us here, but we just came up one day short." Just half an hour after his final college game, Dan Aronowitz's primary emotion was gratitude. "This has been the best year of my life. I just feel really lucky to be a part the program for four years, and this last year has been amazing. I'm not thinking a whole lot about perspective yet, but I'm sure I'll just appreciate it more and more."
At the end of the tournament Eph senior captain Dan Aronowitz was named to the All-Tournament Team.