March 14, 2009

Courtesy of St. Thomas (Minn.) Athletics

WHEATON, Ill. – What a difference a half can make.

St. Thomas, rolling along at halftime with a 41-33 lead over a seemingly rattled Washington University, couldn't maintain its intensity in the second half and fell to the Bears Saturday night, ending a perfect season and falling short of a trip next weekend to the NCAA Division III Final Four.

"We hit a rut," senior forward Lonnie Robinson said of the Tommies' 22-point performance. ""We got some good looks early, but the shots weren't falling for us."

And they fell for the Bears, who held the Tommies to just two points in the first eight minutes of the second half and jumped to a 50-43 lead. Joe Scott hit a three-point shot to narrow the margin to four, but St. Thomas never got closer. Washington rolled up 46 points after the break, many on them on layups and short shots, and combined 67 percent shooting and a 40-20 edge in rebounding to more than make up for the turnovers.

St. Thomas won many games handily this season with relentless full-court pressure and freely using a dozen players. That strategy paid off nicely in the first half, especially over the last 10 minutes, but Washington adjusted at the break, had only five turnovers in the second half and cruised to the win. The Tommies shot only 30 percent in the second half and missed several close-in shots.

"We knew if we could keep the tempo up in the second half, it would help us," St. Thomas coach Steve Fritz said. "We had the energy going in the first half but just couldn't keep it going in the second half."

He credited Washington for making the necessary adjustments. "That's an awfully good team you lost to," he told the players in the locker room. "They're the defending national champions, and you saw why tonight."

Fritz emphasized the Tommies have a lot of memories to cherish – a school-record best 30 wins, their fourth straight regular season and playoff titles in the MIAC, and three NCAA playoff wins.

"You don't have a thing to regret," he said. "This hurts, no question, but it's a part of sports. ... Thanks for everything. You guys are the best – no doubt about it."

Fritz told reporters later that the team – and he singled out seniors Robinson, B.J. Viau, Al McCoy and Brett Tuma – left an "unbelievable" legacy. "They won a lot of games over four years, and they brought a lot of excitement to the program," he said. "They were our heart and soul."