SALEM, Va. -- Blow a 13-point lead? No problem.
Augustana (Ill.) lost its double-digit cushion against Habson in the first Division III semifinal, then the Vikings closed out the game on a 22-1 run to cruise to a 68-48 win and earn a berth in the national championship game.
Leading 32-19 at the half, Augustana (27-4) watched Babson (29-3) steadily chip away at the margin. Bradley Jacks' soft kiss off the glass from the low post tied the game at 41. After the teams traded jumpers, the Beavers' Joey Flannery went to the line with the score tied at 43.Flannery made both free throws, giving Babson its first lead of the game with 7:41 to play. The long, slow comeback was complete.
Unfortunately for Babson, their offense would generate only three more points in the game.
A 3-pointer from Griffin Pils gave Augustan the lead, only to have Flannery take it back with a driving lay-up.
On the next possession Hunter Hill, who was leading the team in scoring but had only eight points to that time, drained a 3-pointer to retake the lead with just over six minutes remaining. No one saw that as a turning point, but Babson coach Stephan Brennan said it was. Hill scored 10 of Augustana's 13 points in a four-minute span, along with another trey from Pils, and the comeback was turned back.
Hill's effort certainly impressed Babson's coach. Brennan spoke directly of his offensive burst as the turning point.
"I thought Hill, at that point, he seemed to decide that there was no way he was going to let them lose that game," Brennan said. "I thought we did a good job in the first half on him, but then he banged two threes, you could tell he got some momentum. Then Griffin Pils -- I thought those two guys changed the game. They both made some shots from 3 that, at least in Pils' case, were contested. I thought they wanted to, they wanted the ball when it was a tight game at that point. They did a great job."
Brennan said the at first the game closing run didn't seem like a run, since both teams traded two empty possessions, but as the margin increased, the Beavers sensed trouble.
"At the beginning of their run you didn't feel like it was going to be a run. It was a gradual situation," Brennan said. "It got to 7 or 8 and at that point we were in trouble because we had to be perfect at both ends of the court and we weren't. They got comfortable and we got away from what we do."
Augustana coach Grey Giovanine said the Vikings executed their game plan perfectly in the first half, especially defensively, but Babson's halftime adjustments allowed them to make the comeback.
"We talked in a time out that we've been in a lot of grind-it-out games and that's what this was going to turn into," Giananine said.
"Obviously, when you finish on a 22-1 run it's facilitated by defense. Then these guys really made some great shots down the stretch."
Hill led the Vikings with 18 points. Pils had 10.
"I just tried to be patient out there wait for my time," Hill said of his slow start on the scoresheet. "Then I got a couple good looks. Great players don't worry about their shots, they do the other things when their shots aren't going -- leading out there and getting our guys on the same page."
Once Pils and Hill each made a deep shot, even though the team lead had evaporated, they felt confident.
"I only took two shots in the first half because our big men were open," Pils said. "I was finding other people open. I could stay confident, keep playing. Late in the game I was getting open looks. I missed a couple, then I knocked down a couple and some things were falling."
The first half belonged to the big men. Nick Hoepfner scored nine points, but found the defense of Babson to his liking.
"We knew that in the post they would play one-on-one match-ups. For big guys, that's what we cherish," said Hoepfner. "We see those matchups and we know everybody has confidence in us, they throw the ball inside. If were open, we're taking it to the rack, if not we know we know we have great shooters on the perimeter."
Babson's Joey Flannery led all scorers with 27 points, becoming the college's all-time leading scorer in the process.