FRISCO, Texas _ Everything seemed to be against No. 2 seed Augustana (S.D.) early in the second half against Tarleton State (Texas) Wednesday evening in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight at Dr. Pepper Arena.
The Vikings trailed by 10 points. They were playing without their all-time leading scorer, senior center Daniel Jansen. A boisterous Tarleton crowd was providing energy for the Texans, who gave them plenty to cheer with 16 three-pointers.
Augustana fought through the adversity and staged a remarkable comeback for an 86-79 victory over Tarleton State to move into the semifinals. Augustana, 32-2, will return to action 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I told the players I might start crying,” Augustana coach Tom Billeter said. “I have never been prouder of a group. We have a really good player, Dan Jansen. We missed him. I feel bad for Dan Jansen. He is not only a great player, he is a great person and a great friend. You have to get together and you have to overcome. We found our small team.
“I want to compliment Tarleton State on a great season. They played their hearts out. They are scrappy. They play hard. That is a heck of a seventh seed.”
The Vikings showed the same heart and they probably will have to do it again Thursday.
Augustana has no idea if Jansen will be available. Jansen suffered an ankle injury late in practice on Tuesday. Not seeing him on the court was emotional for the Vikings. Jansen has started 128 games in his four season at Augustana and during that time has scored a school record 2,217 points.
“Dan and I our best friends,” said senior Casey Schilling. “We have been through it all. Dan is the hardest worker on our team. He has really worked at it. That was the toughest part for me, to see how much determination he has put into his game and then he can’t do anything about the injury.
“I could see it on his face it was tearing him up. It hurts us. We all care. This is the tightest team I have seen. We are brothers. When you see one of your brothers down, you want to pick him up. Dan has given us so much. This was our turn to give him something back.”
But 5 minutes into the second half, it looked bleak for Augustana. The Vikings trailed 48-38 after Tarleton State senior EJ Reed knocked down a three-pointer.
“We had a great crowd tonight,” Reed said. “When I hit a shot like that and the crowd is getting into it, we got amped with the crowd.”
Undaunted by the double-digit deficit, Augustana went on a 9-1 run and closed to 49-47.
RELATED: Division II Men's Basketball bracket
Foul trouble to Reed and a couple of other Tarleton State players started to pose a problem for the Texans.
“We were in foul trouble a lot in the second half,” Tarleton State coach Lonn Reisman said. “When you are in that much foul trouble and you have some of your best people foul out, it was really hard to overcome.
“Augustana has an outstanding team and they played very well. It was a tough ballgame.”
Three-point shooting, especially from senior Michael Hardge, kept Tarleton State ahead most of the second half. Hardge finished with a career-high 26 points.
With 4:58, Augustana finally tied the game at 70-70 on a basket from Schilling. A free throw 28 seconds later gave the Vikings their first lead in the second half at 71-70. Augustana senior Alex Richter solidified the lead with two free throws and then he made a basket, giving Augustana a 75-70 lead.
Hardge responded with a long three-pointer that closed the gap to two points with 2:43 left.
“It didn’t seem like they would ever miss a three,” said Richter, who finished with 32 points. “We just stuck with the game plan.”
After two free throws by the Vikings, Tarleton State junior Chantz Chambers hit a long corner three, drawing the Texans to within one at 77-76.
“We are a hard-nosed team,” Schilling said. “We come out and just play our butts off. We are going to come after you. We are going to respond to your pressure with more pressure.”
Augustana scored the next seven points, all of them coming from Richter and that sealed the game for the Vikings.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” Richter said.
In the first half, after the lead bounced back and forth six times, Tarleton took control midway through and went into halftime with its biggest lead of the game at 37-29.
“They were just everywhere,” Schilling said of Tarleton’s defense. “They always had two guys wherever I went. I tried to get some shots at the beginning of the game and then I let the game come to me.”
Augustana held a 17-14 lead when the Texans made their move. It started with a three-pointers from Chambers. They went ahead for good in the first half on a tip-in basket from junior Romond Jenkins, making it 19-17.
It wasn’t until the last 90 seconds that the Texans put some distance between them and Augustana. Leading 29-27, Tarleton got a basket in the paint from Reed. Reed then went outside a drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Tarleton finished the half with a three-pointer from sophomore Nosa Ebomwonyi, giving the Texans an eight-point lead.
Augustana was pretty good from three-point range, going four for seven. Tarleton State was better, going eight for 16.