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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Men’s basketball stopped by Gustavus, snubbed by NCAA

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It’s that impossibly hollow feeling that screams, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” That question mark forever left in your head wondering what could have been.

After winning a share of the 2011 MIAC regular season title and completing an undefeated regular season at home, the Carleton men’s basketball team did the unthinkable: they lost at West Gym. For the first time in 398 days an opposing squad came to Carleton and went home as victors.

And this wasn’t just any game, some January throwaway easily recovered from. Nope, it was the conference semifinals and a win that would have surely wrapped up an NCAA Tournament spot, whether or not the Knights had gone on to beat St. Thomas in the finals. And after losing by one on a questionable call to the eventual national champions in last year’s Little Dance then steamrolling to a 17-3 record in a tough conference this year, who knows how far the Knights could have taken their seemingly magical season.

Instead, it all came crashing down as Gustavus Adolphus outplayed Carleton last Friday for a 70-64 win in front of a full house of Knight faithful. Then, adding insult to injury, Carleton’s name was inexplicably absent when the NCAA announced the 61-team field for this year’s championship tournament on Monday. By the committee’s own selection criteria, the Knights posted better numbers in a majority of categories when compared to several of the teams that received spots, but for whatever reason Carleton was denied one of the 18 at-large bids, bringing a special season to a screeching halt.

Seth Jonker ’11 scored a game-high 23 points on Friday, doing his best to lift the Knights into the finals, but it wasn’t enough as Gustavus was too strong on both ends of the court. The fifth-seeded Gusties held the Knights to 41.3 percent shooting while knocking down 55.3 percent of their attempts and denying Carleton the chance to defend its 2010 playoff crown.

In front of a raucous home crowd, the Knights came out hot and built an early lead, going up by 10 on three different occasions in the first half. Carleton led 30-22 after a Jonker free throw at the 4:08 mark, but Gustavus closed the half on a 12-3 spurt, taking a 34-33 lead into the locker room on Adam Michel’s tip-in with time expiring.

The Knights regained the lead briefly on a Carter Biewen ‘11 layup to start the second half, but it was all Gusties after that as the guests posted a 12-1 run over the next five minutes to take over control of the contest. Gustavus would keep its lead at five or more for the bulk of the second half, as Carleton struggled to find its groove on offense and the Gustie guards held court at their end, connecting on jumpers and drawing consistent trips to the free throw line. Gustavus finished 16-of-21 from the stripe while the Knights were just 4-of-9.
Carleton never surrendered, as Jonker, Tom Sawatzke ‘13 and Jeremy Sutherland ‘11 each hit clutch three-pointers in the final two minutes. Sutherland’s rainmaker with 35 seconds remaining made it a four-point game at 68-64, but it was too little too late for the Knights’ star, whom the Gusties held to just seven points. With 30 seconds to go, Wirtjes made one of two free throws on the other end then Dan Schmidtknecht collected a big steal and made the second of his two attempts from the stripe to ice the win for Gustavus with 12 seconds left.
Sawatzke chipped in 10 points for the Knights, as did Caleb Rosenow ’12. Carleton out-rebounded the Gusties 35-28 and grabbed 17 offensive boards, tied for its best figure of the season, but the Knights’ shooting woes prevented them from capitalizing on numerous second chances.

The loss marked the final collegiate game for Carleton’s four seniors. Biewen, Jonker, Sutherland, and Jason Weischedel leave the program as the winningest senior class in school history, having collected 72 victories during their careers.

While the semifinal defeat hurt, and the tourney snub hurt even more, the Knights did receive a small bit of silver lining with the announcement of the MIAC end-of-the-year awards on Monday. For the second year in a row, Jonker and Sutherland earned a spot on the All-MIAC first team while Rosenow took home Sixth Man of the Year and head coach Guy Kalland received Coach of the Year honors for the second time.

Jonker and Sutherland both end their careers as members of the 1,000-point club and the leaders of two of Carleton’s most exciting campaigns in recent memory. Sutherland has long been the conference’s top defender, and his impact on both ends of the court will be sorely missed. Jonker stepped into the role of go-to beast in the post last year and after battling a knee injury early this season, he once again became one of the MIAC’s top offensive weapons as well as a solid presence on defense.

Meanwhile, Biewen has been the essence of consistency, starting 106 of the team’s 108 games during his career and nailing clutch threes since the Tommy Drake days. Then there’s Weischedel, the model team-first player, who stepped in and held down the point for much of his freshman year before providing steady bench play and endless enthusiasm as a sophomore and senior.

While Kalland and the Knights will likely replace the considerable contributions of these four class acts next year and stay near the top of the MIAC, for now it’s time to say a difficult goodbye. It’s a shame their careers didn’t get the chance to last a few weeks longer.

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