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Christian Moody | | March 21, 2015

UWSP defends way to fourth title in 12 years

Wisconsin-Stevens Point claims men's DIII title

SALEM, Va. -- For the fourth time in 12 years, the Division III national championship trophy belongs to Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a 70-54 winner against Augustana (Ill.) in the title game. The Pointers also claimed the title in 2004, '05 and '10.

More than a team, it's a system that is credited with the success the Pointers have enjoyed.

That system is defense first, defense foremost.

Leading the country in scoring defense by surrendering only 54.6 points per game, UWSP showed its defensive mettle against the Vikings, holding Augustana to 54 points, right on the season average.

For Augustana, that was 25 points lower than their average of 79 ppg.

That defense was on display late in the first half when the Pointers denied Augustana any points on eight consecutive possessions, a scoreless streak of nearly seven minutes. In that time the Pointers scored 12 points and turned a two-point deficit into a 10-point lead.

UWSP took a nine-point lead into halftime. When Griffin Pils hit a jumper in the opening minute of the second half, the Viking cut the lead to seven. It was as close as they would come.

The Pointers (27-5) went on another 12-0 run and pushed Augustana into desperation mode. Three-pointers by Joe Ritchay, Jordan Lutz and Stephen Pelkofer fueled the offensive surge.

For the game, the Pointers shot 12-for-18 from behind the arc, a 66.7 percent clip. Ritchay hit his only two attempts from long range, and Austin Ryf was 3-for-4.

Ryf was voted the tournament most outstanding player with 38 points in two games, including 17 in the final game.

The Vikings, however, didn't go away quietly. Following a layup by Tayvian Johnson and six consecutive points from Hunter Hill, Augustana had cut the lead to nine points with 4:29 remaining.

UWSP then went inside, where Alex Richard hit a layup in traffic, followed a kiss off the glass by Joe Ritchay. An Augustana turnover was fed to Ryf, who drained a three from the top of the key and lead was 16 with 2:38 to play. The threat was over.

Ryf's 17 led all scorers. Ritchay finished with 15, Pelkofer had 14 and Richard scored 12.

  Augustana was held to 25 below its average.
Augustana was led by Brandon Motzel with 14 points, one more than Hill.

For the Pointers, playing the late game on Friday -- a game that ended a little more than 16 hours before the championship game tip-off -- meant a late night and short rest for a team that plays its starting five heavy minutes.

For that reason, the morning shoot around was cancelled to allow a little more rest. Head coach Bob Semling said it was a gamble, but it paid off.

Only seven players took the court for the Pointers, and the two off the bench combined for only 18 minutes. Ryf played all 40, but that's not uncommon.

"When we get here in the fall we know what we have to do to get out bodies ready for the season. We know what's expected of us in the system," Ryf said.

Semling said the defense first system has proven itself.

"There are a lot of ways you can play basketball, but Stevens Point has used this system for four decades," Semling said. "It's how we do it. You have to buy in, and when we have players really buying into what we are doing, we have success."

Augustna coach Grey Giovanine said the defense is hard to play against, but their offense cannot be discounted.

"We thought our depth would be an advantage, but they play five guys all year so they're used to it. It's hard to beat anybody who shoots it as well as they do," Giovanine said.

UWSP is now 8-0 in Salem. For Augustana, it was the third time in a national championship game, the first time since 1993 and first time to the semifinals in Salem.