At 6-foot-5 and just more than 200 pounds, UW-River Falls forward Brennan Witt left the UW-Whitewater defense stumped.
Put a bigger guy on Witt, and the senior uses his quickness to get to the rim. Put smaller guy on him, and Witt just grinds into the lane for an easy basket.
Fittingly, Witt delivered the decisive blow with a contested layup in the lane with 1.8 seconds left to give the No. 3-ranked River Falls an 81-80 victory over No. 5-ranked Whitewater on Saturday afternoon.
Witt’s 30 points and 10 rebounds overshadowed Whitewater’s 13 3-pointers and 51-percent field-goal shooting to help the Falcons gain the important victory.
“The game boiled down to Witt, and we didn’t have an answer for him,” UW-Whitewater coach Pat Miller said. “And when we were able to have somewhat of an answer, he was able to control the offensive glass.”
Whitewater’s best answer for Witt was to seemingly outshoot him. The Warhawks shot 50 percent from 3-point territory, sinking five 3-pointers in the second half to gain control 76-66 with 5:47 left.
“We have a good shooting team,” Miller said. “We’ve made some adjustments on the offensive end to get guys in positions to hit shots, and tonight we had good shots and got to the rim.”
But the Warhawks offense finally hit a snag in the final five minutes, setting the table for the Falcons to close out the game with a 15-4 run.
“We were playing scared, to be honest,” said Warhawks guard Mitchell Pfeifer, who had 18 points and four 3-pointers. “We were up by 10 at one point and we slowed down when we should have kept attacking.”
The Falcons methodically cut into the 10-point advantage to just 80-79 with 1:49 behind a sizeable 15-5 offensive rebounding advantage.
“Their ability to bang us up inside all night long and get rebounds and get putbacks was the key to the game,” Warhawks guard Andre Brown said. “We scored 80 points and we should win with 80 points, but obviously they exposed us and we have to figure out a way to defend the inside.”
The Falcons squandered their first chance to take the lead, missing two free throws with 51 seconds left. Then on the ensuing possession, the Warhawks ran 26 seconds off the clock before guard David Sachs drove the lane and was called for a charge.
Falcons coach Jeff Berkhof then made the obvious choice to run their final play through Witt, who powered into the lane and scored over two Warhawks defenders to make it 81-80 with 1.8 seconds left.
Whitewater fired the inbounds pass three-quarters-court to Janesville Craig High graduate Riley Jensen, who tipped it to Sachs for an open 25-footer that missed the mark at the buzzer.
“I didn’t know how much we had truly been tested, and I knew the games in the tournament and these games with No. 7 Oshkosh and this one would be significant tests for us,” Miller said. “And we learned a lot about ourselves in the last week and I think we gained some confidence.”
RIVER FALLS 81, WHITEWATER 80
River Falls (81)—Clay, 1-5 3-4 6, Buckley, 2-9 6, Herink, 2-7 7-10 11, Witt, 13-16 4-9 30, Laymon, 3-5 8; Moldenhauer, 1-2 3; Heidecker 1-2 2-2 4, Jackson 2-3 5. Totals: 28-59 16-25 81.
Whitewater (80)—Sachs, 4-9 2-2 13, Pfeifer 7-13 18, Brown, 7-12 3-5 18, Rongstad, 3-7 2-4 8, Jensen, 1-2 2-3 4, Ngobi, 1-1 2, Menke 5-8 14, Turner 1-4 0-1 3. Totals: 29-56 9-15 80.
River Falls 45 36-81
Whitewater 47 33-80
Three point goals—River Falls 9 (Seifert 1-4 Buckley 2-7, Herink 0-2, Keller 2-5, Witt 0-1, Timlin 0-1, Jackson 1-2). Whitewater 13 (Sachs 3-5, Pfeifer 4-6, Brown 1-4, Rongstad 0-2, Menke 4-7, Turner 1-2). Rebounds—River Falls 40 (Witt 10), Whitewater 27 (Rongstad 7). Assists—River Falls 17 (Keller 4, Heidecker 4), Whitewater 14 (Sachs 3, Brown 3, Rongstad 3. Total fouls—River Falls 20, Whitewater 20.