Sioux Falls Storms Back To Stun Augustana
Cougars Defeat Rival Vikings 69-62
SIOUX FALLS – Led by a career-high 21 points and nine rebounds from junior guard Zach Wessels, the University of Sioux Falls Men’s Basketball Team (8-8, 4-4 NSIC) rallied from a nine-point deficit to defeat city rival Augustana (10-4, 5-3 NSIC), 69-62 in NSIC play before 2,765 at the Sioux Falls Arena.
After the game was tied at 29-29 at halftime, Augustana opened up a nine-point lead at 48-39 with 10:03 to play. Then, the Cougars closed on a 30-14 run to pick up the win. With the game tied at 62, Drew Guebert, who had hit just one shot on the night, came up with one of the biggest shots of his young career, a three-pointer from the left side for a 65-62 lead with 40 seconds to play. Then, Wessels made four straight free throws to put the game away and give USF its biggest win of the season.
“We just made plays tonight. Anytime you can rally back from nine points down against a good team on their home floor, it makes for a pretty special moment,” said USF head coach Chris Johnson. “I thought we played hard all game and our defense was again outstanding,” added Johnson, who picked up his 149th career win at USF.
With the victory, the Cougars recorded its fourth win in five games and ended a seven-game losing streak to their city rivals, dating to a 70-58 decision on Feb. 15, 2013 by the Cougars at the Stewart Center. The victory also helped USF, which only has a one point loss (87-86) to SMSU in the last five games, get back to .500 both overall at 8-8 and in league play at 4-4.
The win was the Cougars’ first over Augustana on the Vikings’ home floor since a 93-87 decision on Nov. 22, 1994 at the Elmen Center.
“We had some big performances from everyone,” he said. “In the second half, I thought Zach Wessels was the best player on the floor. He just made play after play. And, Mack Johnson, among others, came through. This (win) was really sweet for our team,” he added.
Wessels made 7-of-10 shots from the floor and 4-of-5 from the foul line for 21 points. He also had a career-best nine rebounds, including three on the offensive glass, while dishing three dimes and recording a steal in 32 minutes of action.
“I am just really proud of the guys on the team for battling all night,” said Wessels, a junior from Austin, Minn. “When those free throws went down late, it felt really good. This was really a big win for us,” he added.
Aside from Wessels, Mack Johnson had 17 points, hitting 6-of-12 shots from the floor and 1-of-5 from three point range. He had three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Senior forward Daniel Hurtt also reached double digits for the second straight game with 17 points, hitting 4-of-7 from three point range, and grabbing six boards.
The Cougars finished 25-of-62 from the floor for 40.3 percent, improving from 34.5 percent (10-29) in the first half to 45.5 percent (15-of-33) in the second stanza. USF was 7-of-26 from three point range and made 12-of-18 free throws. For the 13th time in 16 games, the Cougars won the rebound battle, outboarding the Vikings, 42-36.
As for the Vikings, they were led by Mike Busack with 18 points, including 3-of-9 from three point range. Augustana finished 21-of-56 from the floor for 37.5 percent and just 5-of-22 from three point range for 22.7 percent. They made 15-of-22 free throws.
Both teams struggled scoring early before Hurtt entered the game and put up seven of his 16 first-half points during a three minute span to give USF a 11-8 lead at the 14 minute mark. Wessels hit a jumper from right side for a 13-8 lead at the 13:10 mark. Then, Augie responded with a 8-0 run over a four minute time period to take a 16-13 lead with 9:53 to play in the half. USF ended a five-minute scoreless drought when M. Johnson, who had five points in the half, hit a pair of free throws (8:03) to cut the lead to 16-15. But in a half, when most of USF’s players struggled shooting, Hurtt’s play was a key factor in keeping USF close. His three pointer pulled the Cougars within 20-18. Then, he made his third trey of the half to give Cougars a 21-20 lead with four minutes to play. Later, another Hurtt three-pointer gave the Cougars a 29-27 lead with 59 seconds to go.
In the first half, USF hit just 10-of-29 field goals for 34.5 percent and were only 4-of-15 from three point range for 26.7 percent. The Cougars made 5-of-7 foul shots and held a 21-18 rebound edge. The Vikings, which were led by Jordan spencer with seven points, made 11-of-28 from the floor for 39.3 percent. They were 3-of-11 from three point range and 4-of-8 from the foul line.
Guebert opened the second half with a deep three to get USF on the board and into a 32-31 lead at the 18:58 mark. The Vikings had a 7-3 run to grab a 37-35 lead with 15:47 on the clock after two free throws by John Warren. Augustana jumped the margin to 42-35 after a Spencer layup with 13:10 to play. With the clock winding down, Tom Aase converted a jumper to keep Cougars within five at 42-37. After the Vikings took a nine-point lead (48-39), M. Johnson and Wessels fueled a USF rally. Johnson’s jumper cut the lead to 46-39. Shortly thereafter, Johnson had a steal and three-point play followed by a jumper to draw USF within 48-44 with eight minutes to play. After Wessels converted an offensive rebound into points, M. Johnson knocked in a three pointer to pull USF into a tie with Augie at 51 with five minutes to play.
Then, the game took on a frenetic pace with USF drawing even with the Vikings five times in the final five minutes. It wasn’t until Guebert knocked home his three-pointer in the final minute that USF took the lead. Then, the Cougars, led by Wessel’s performance, knocked down the free throws with the USF defense shutting down the Vikings at the defensive end.
Next for USF will be home games against Upper Iowa on Jan. 6 and Winona State on Jan. 7 at the Stewart Center.