SALEM, Va. — For the second time in three years, Augustana (Ill.) is back in the NCAA Division III championship game. Coach Grey Giovanine's squad earned a spot in this year's title tilt with a 90-79 semifinal win over Williams on Friday at the Salem Civic Center. The Vikings will take a 24-8 record into Saturday night's contest against third-ranked Babson (30-2), a 91-85 winner over top-ranked and previously undefeated Whitman in Friday's first semifinal. Williams ended its season with a 23-9 record.
Augustana dominated the first half, jumping in front 17-2 and leading by double digits for most of the period. Nolan Ebel's layup with 49 seconds left put the Vikings up 42-31. However, with a chance to extend the lead further, they committed a shot clock violation just 1.6 seconds before halftime. The Ephs inbounds to Daniel Aronowitz, whose 60-footer banked in as the buzzer sounded, forcing Augustana to settle for a 42-34 lead at the break.
Aronowitz's shot sparked a 13-0 Williams run, as the Ephs outscored the Vikings 10-0 coming out of the locker room to take their only lead of the game. Cole Teal's two free throws with 16:46 to play gave Williams a 44-42 advantage. Chrishawn Orange tied it with a short jumper at the 16:33 mark and although Augustana wouldn't trail again, there would be five more ties over the next six minutes.
Augustana is headed to the national championship tomorrow night! The Vikings defeat Williams 90-79.— Grey Giovanine (@Augustana_Hoops) March 18, 2017
Ebel's 3-pointer from the left wing at 10:06 finally gave the Vikings the lead for good, but the margin wouldn't climb above six points until the final two and a half minutes. Brett Benning's bucket at the six-minute mark made it 71-65, but the Ephs got two Aronowitz layups and a Teal free throw to cut the deficit to 71-70 with 3:39 to play.
Ebel drained two free throws on the next possession and a Micah Martin put-back and Benning's trey from the left corner gave Augustana some breathing room at 78-70 with 2:28 left. After an Aronowitz layup, the Vikings scored eight straight to go up 86-72 — their biggest lead since the 14:46 mark of the first half. Two more Ebel freebies and a Benning dunk accounted for the final Augustana points.
The Vikings hit five three pointers — two by Dylan Sortillo and one each by Orange, Jacob Johnston and Benning in the first 5:14 of the game to take that 17-2 lead. Williams got no closer than eight points the rest of the half as Augustana burned the nets to the tune of .667 from the field (16-24) and 3-point range (6-of-9) and piled up a 21-9 advantage on the boards. The Ephs hung in by committing just one turnover and knocking down eight of nine free throws.
For the game, Augustana shot .620 (31-50) from the field, .563 (9-16) from beyond the arc and .792 (19-24) from the foul line. Williams finished 25-of-62 (.403) from the floor, 8-of-29 (.276) from 3-point range and 21-of-24 (.875) from the free-throw line. The Vikings controlled the glass 36-24 and turned it over 13 times to just six for the Ephs.
Giovanine got tremendous balance, with five players combining for 84 of Augustana's 90 points. Orange led the way with 21 on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. Benning (7-8 from the floor) and Ebel added 17 apiece, with Ebel chipping in five rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. Sortillo dropped in 15 to go along with game highs of nine rebounds and five assists and Johnston scored 14. Freshmen Donovan Ferguson and Martin had three and two, respectively, of the Vikings' seven blocked shots. Aronowitz scored a game-high 29 for Williams.
Augustana will be playing in its fourth NCAA Division III national championship game and will be seeking its first title. Giovanine's Vikings lost 70-54 to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2015. Steve Yount's squad fell 71-68 to Northern Iowa in 1993 and Jim Borcherding's 1980-81 team lost 67-65 in overtime to Potsdam State. Babson will not be a completely unfamiliar foe. The Beavers were Augustana's opponent in the 2015 national semifinal, with the Vikings coming out on top 68-48. Saturday's contest is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET.