SALEM, Va. -- After seeing Babson erase its 13-point halftime lead, the Augustana men's basketball team went back to work Friday, outscoring the Beavers 25-3 in the game's final seven and a half minutes to win the NCAA Division III semifinal 68-48 and earn a trip to Saturday's national championship game. The Vikings improved to 27-4 on the year, while Babson suffered just its third setback in 32 outings this season.
When Beaver All-American Joey Flannery converted a pair of free throws with 7:41 to play, it gave Babson its first lead of the night at 45-43 and completed the team's comeback from a 32-19 halftime deficit. Augustana, which had scored just 11 second-half points, looked to be in trouble on the next possession as well, but junior Griffin Pils hit a step-back 3 from the left wing as the shot clock expired to regain the lead.
Flannery scored again to put the Beavers up one final time 47-46, but junior Hunter Hill answered with another trey and the Vikings wouldn't trail again. Augustana closed the game on 22-1 run over the final 6:04 to win going away.
A Nic Hoepfner free-throw line jumper put the Vikings up 51-47. Another Pils 3 made it 54-47 and Hill hit a jumper and a three to push the lead back into double digits (59-48) with 3:17 to play. At the 3:47 mark, Flannery had split a pair of free throw attempts to account for the Beavers' only point in the final 6:42 of the game.
Junior Brandon Motzel put an exclamation point on the evening with a steal and dunk with 1:21 remaining, which was compounded by an intentional foul on Babson. Motzel converted both free throws and Ben Ryan added one of two after a Beaver foul to put Vikings up 66-48. Sophomore Michael Hoekstra's two free throws with 33 seconds left accounted for the final.
Babson answered with eight straight, including four from Flannery, to cut Augustana's lead to 16-13. A Straughter steal led to a Tayvian Johnson dunk and free throw, starting a 16-6 Viking run to close the half. Augustana led 32-19 at the break.
Flannery fueled the Beavers' second-half comeback scoring 17 of his game-high 27 after halftime. Of those 17, 14 came in the first 13 minutes of the period as Babson wiped out that 13-point Viking lead.
A dozen of Hill's team-high 18 points came in the second half. He added a game-high four assists. Pils added 10 points and four steals. Hoepfner scored nine and blocked two shots. Motzel had eight points, six rebounds and four steals in just 11 minutes on the floor. Ryan and Johnson each scored six points and grabbed six boards.
Augustana shot .426 (23 of 54) for the game, .357 (5 of 14) from three-point range and .773 (17-22) from the foul line. The Vikings held the Beavers to .400 (18 of 45) shooting from the field, including two of 13 (.154) from beyond the arc. Augustana won the battle of the boards by a 33-31 margin and committed just nine turnovers, while forcing 18. The Vikings turned it over just three times in the second half.
The win tied this year's club with Coach Grey Giovanine's 2010-11 outfit for the second-most in school history at 27. On Saturday, March 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET, Augustana will play for the national championship for the third time. Coach Jim Borcherding's Vikings lost 67-65 in overtime to Potsdam State at Carver Center in 1981 and Coach Steve Yount's bunch fell 71-68 to Ohio Northern in Buffalo, New York in 1993. This year's opponent at the Salem Civic Center will be the winner of Friday's second semifinal between Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Virginia Wesleyan.