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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Knights’ season ends in Auggie heartbreak

<ailing Augsburg 65-64 with three seconds remaining in their opening round game of the MIAC playoffs Monday night, the Carleton Knights put the ball in the right pair of hands. Senior co-captain Zach Johnson, the program's all-time leading scorer and the 16th best in Minnesota college basketball history, found a decent look at a long-range jumper, but three more points were not to be added to his illustrious total as the buzzer-beating attempt bounced off the rim, bringing to an untimely end a season full of excitement and milestones for the men's basketball program.

The Knights dug themselves into an early hole on the Auggies’ home hardwood, but were able to come back by halftime. In the second half, after starting strong, Carleton slipped again, falling behind by 14 with just under eight minutes remaining, but once more the Knights came doggedly back. Freshman point guard Blaise Davis hit a dramatic three with ten seconds remaining to bring the Knights within one, and the Auggies missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Carleton and its few fans who had turned out a morsel of hope.

With no timeouts left, though, and Augsburg committing a heady foul that forced the Knights to inbound the ball from the sideline near mid-court instead of running a fast break, Johnson had to fire a long, leaning shot that looked good out of his hand but heartbreakingly careened off the rim. The senior star battled valiantly for his own rebound, but the clock expired on the Knights’ season a split-second too soon.

Johnson scored 19 points in his final collegiate contest to set his remarkable career total at 2,029, but Carleton also received gallant efforts from many other players Monday. Davis finished with nine points and four assists, sophomore forward Seth Jonker tallied eight points and eight rebounds and junior big man Bryan Rosett, though held to only four points, grabbed nine boards as the Knights’ out-rebounded Augsburg 32-29, including a 21-10 margin in the first half that allowed Carleton to carry a 37-33 lead into the locker room.

The Knights’ bench also gave an inspiring performance as freshman Kellan McLemore scored nine points, including a huge three-pointer to give his team its first lead of the game, 27-26, with 4:40 to go in the first period. Junior Morris Nwogwugwu played with tremendous energy, recording six points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in just 11 minutes of action. Senior co-captain Bobby Schmitz even got in on the act in his final game, hitting a big three-pointer during the Knights’ run at the end of the first half.

Relegated to the bench, though, for much of the second period, the Knights’ reserves watched the players on the court freeze to ice in front of their eyes, as Carleton amazingly went nine minutes without scoring a point in the middle of the half. The Auggies capitalized, taking advantage of a distinct lack of foul calls and the Knights’ careless play by scoring 19 points during the decisive span.

With the win, Augsburg advanced to take on second-seeded Bethel Wednesday night, but they would not come out on top this time, falling to the host Royals 70-59. On Saturday, Bethel will take its best shot at behemoth St. Thomas in the conference championship.

The Knights, meanwhile, will walk away from the season with a bitter taste in their mouths, as they struggled in its final weeks, losing five of their final six games. The 2008-09 campaign was filled with many high points, though, which should not be forgotten despite its doleful ending. Early on, Carleton enjoyed a dreamlike trip to Hawaii, beating two Division-II teams including a historic upset of Chaminade University in Honolulu. During the MIAC season, the Knights emphatically won both games with St. Olaf, holding onto the Goat Trophy for the 19th time in the last 20 years. Carleton also proved its mettle in two hard-fought losses to the juggernaut Tommies, playing St. Thomas as close as any team in the conference did over the course of its undefeated regular season.

Once finals are over, and the Carleton baseball team has a few wins under its belt, the basketball program will begin to look ahead to next season, which promises to be another exciting one. The Knights will obviously have to cope with the loss of the greatest scorer in program history in Johnson, but the consistent and powerful play of Rosett in the post and the blossoming as the season progressed of Nwogwugwu and Jonker as well as freshmen Davis, McLemore, and Miles Silbert should give Carleton fans plenty of optimism heading into the off-season. The Knights will also look forward to the return of injured defensive ace Jeremy Sutherland for his second shot at a junior season as well as improved play from will-be junior sharpshooter Carter Biewen. The extraordinary Johnson will prove impossible to replace, but nevertheless the future of Knights basketball remains bright as the lights of West Gym that eagerly await another season of maize and blue.

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