Bethany men's basketball hangs on to earn program's first-ever DIII NCAA tournament berth
MANKATO -- The Bethany Lutheran men's basketball team just made an 8-0 run, bumping the lead to 73-49 with 11 minutes to play.
But Northwestern was seven-time champions of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament, and they weren't going away. The Eagles got the lead down to three points with two minutes to play, and things were getting tense.
"We knew this would be a game of runs, and they have that championship pedigree," Bethany senior Brady Rose said. "But we just had to stay together and keep playing, and we came out on top."
Brady Rose made five straight free throws in the final minute, and his twin brother Bradley made two more as the Vikings defeated Northwestern 96-90 at the Sports & Fitness Center to earn the first NCAA tournament berth in program history.
"This is why you (get into coaching)," Bethany's Matt Fletcher said. "To see these guys have success, and change the expectations for themselves and the program ... it's unbelievable. I'm so happy."
The victory was all about pace, with Bethany averaging 84.2 points, including 93.8 points per game in the five-game winning streak leading up to the championship game. Northwestern was averaging 72.4 points before Saturday.
And there was still memories of last season, which ended with a disappointing, 20-point home loss in the UMAC semifinals.
"This team worked so hard in the offseason," Brady Rose said. "We knew we didn't play well last season, and it was up to our seniors and captains to make sure we did things right."
There was a good crowd on hand, and the Vikings got the fans revved up with an early 8-0 run to lead 17-10. Bethany kept the pressure on, building the lead to 44-29 by halftime, with Bethany shooting 64.3 percent and 16 assists on 18 field goals.
"The first half was played at our tempo," Fletcher said. "They decided if they were going to get back into it, they had to run with us. Give them a lot of credit for completely changing their style, on the run."
The lead seemed safe at 73-49 midway through the second half. However, Northwestern hit some tough shots to gain confidence. A 13-0 run, fueled by some turnovers, allowed the Eagles to pull within 86-83 with two minutes remaining.
Bradley Rose nailed a corner 3-pointer to get come relief, but the Vikings still needed to make free throws in the final minute. Brady Rose, an 86.3 percent shooter, made 5 of 6, and Bradley Rose, who had made 82.1 percent at the line, clinched the victory with two at the end.
"I've made some mistakes in the past," Brady Rose said. "I've missed some big free throws in high school and college. But I was excited to go the line and help my teammates."
Brady Rose, the tournament MVP, finished with 21 points and five rebounds, and point guard Neil Eichten had 21 points and seven assists, making 5 of 6 from 3-point range. Bradley Rose had 13 points and eight assists, while Trenton Krueger and Blake Lindstrom each scored 10.
The Vikings had 31 assists on 35 field goals, shooting 61.4 percent. Bethany was 14 of 28 from 3-point range and 21 of 29 inside the arc.
"(Northwestern has) won this seven years in a row, so we knew they were going to come back," Fletcher said. "But we built that lead and put ourselves in position to weather that storm. Bradley hit that big 3; that was a game-changer. And I wanted the ball in Brady's hands at the end. I could see he wanted it."
Bethany (19-8) will find out Monday night the opponent and site for the NCAA tournament, which will begin Friday.
This article is written by Chad Courrier from The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.