By Kevin Dudley – [email protected]

The Johnnie basketball season officially came to an end on Monday.

They were coming off a wild MIAC championship game where a win would have secured them a bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament but received the news on Monday that, despite their tournament run, they were not selected for the at-large bid either.

The Johnnies were the fourth seed in the MIAC tournament which started Feb. 21 at home with a 86-58 victory over Hamline. The Johnnies were red hot in that game shooting 61.1 percent from both the field and three-point line. The game was close early on, however the Johnnies used a 16-5 run to start the
second half to propel them to the victory.

Their tournament continued in the semifinals Feb. 23 with an 80-78 road win over arch rival St. Thomas.

It was a back-and-forth affair throughout with both teams dominating stretches of the game. The Johnnies shot 51.9 percent in the first half, and went into the break with a 43-39 advantage. They started the second half with an 8-0 run, which extended the lead to 51-39 with 17:06 remaining.

The Tommies then went on a 23-5 run in the middle of the second half to take a 68-64 lead with 8:36 remaining. The teams continued to match baskets down the stretch into the final minute of the game.

It was tied 78-78 with 30.4 seconds remaining. With the shot clock set at 30 seconds, the Johnnies held the ball to try to get the last shot in regulation.

Sophomore guard David Stokman carried it down the court draining the clock inside 10 seconds, when a sudden double team forced him to defer to junior guard Garrett Goetz. Goetz drove to the free throw line where he knocked down a pull-up jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining. Junior guard Brent Hentges deflected the ensuing inbound pass to secure the victory for the Johnnies.

Goetz was happy with his game winner, but pointed out that a lot more than one shot led to the Johnnies’ victory.

“A lot of people will remember what happened on the last play, but a team effort allowed us to get the win,” Goetz said.

The tournament and season came to an end for the Johnnies in the championship game on Feb. 25 with a heartbreaking 79-75 road loss to the regular season champion Bethel Royals.

The Johnnies went on a 26-14 run to start the second half, which gave them a 56-48 lead with 11:28 remaining. Just minutes later the Royals went on an 11-2 run of their own to tie the score with 7:07 to go.

The score was again tied with 45.3 seconds remaining when the Johnnies turned the ball over on a shot clock violation. Junior wing John Oliver appeared to cleanly strip the Royals’ Bridgeport Tusler on the ensuing possession, but the whistle blew, recording a foul.

Tusler made both free throws to give the Royals a two-point lead. Then Stokman answered with a traditional three-point play to give the Johnnies a one-point edge. The Royals scored a layup on the ensuing possession, which was followed by a Stokman turnover for the Johnnies. Tusler was fouled at the other end and made both free throws en route to a Bethel victory and automatic bid to the national tournament.

Oliver thinks the disappointing loss will drive the team going forward, even though it was a bitter way to end the season.

“Now we have a taste, which just makes us more hungry,” Oliver said.

Even though the season is over for the Johnnies, the future looks bright. They only lose one senior, and return all five starters. Stokman and junior post Tyler Weiss were named to the six-man All-MIAC first team while first-year wing Jubie Alade was named to the five-man MIAC All-Rookie team.

Expectations will be high for the Johnnies next season with much of the roster remaining in tact. Oliver was not shy when talking about the expectations for next season.

“Our goal for next year is a MIAC championship, and a run in the NCAA tournament,” Oliver said.

Feature image: ALEXUS JUNGLES • [email protected]