To put it mildly, the beginning of the conference season for UW-Whitewater has been painful.
After ripping off 11 straight non-conference victories to start the season, the Warhawks have dropped four of their first five conference games.
The latest setback came Wednesday night with fifth-ranked UW-Oshkosh outlasting the Warhawks in the final moments to win 82-75.
The deflating loss drops the Warhawks (12-4, 1-4) farther down the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings and leaves them searching for answers.
“The Eau Claire loss has kind of spurred this whole thing, and we need to execute at higher level,” UW-Whitewater coach Pat Miller said. “We did it in longer stretches against Oshkosh, but there are just stretches where we take bad shots and we aren’t good enough to make up for those things.”
Whitewater managed to overcome its bad stretches to trail by just three points, 78-75, with 36 seconds left.
But that’s when the bottom fell out for the Warhawks.
Whitewater’s final three possessions consisted of a block shot, a turnover, and a missed shot as time ran out.
The league-leading Titans sandwiched four free throws between those possessions to seal the Warhawks’ fate.
“In close games like we got to stay consistent and we got to match their intensity,” said UW-Whitewater forward Melvin Brown Jr., who racked up a game-high 27 points. “We kept fighting, but in the end, we came up a little short.”
The Warhawks were in the trail position for most of the game after a series of Oshkosh spurts.
The Titans opened the contest on a 9-0 run before the Warhawks countered with a 15-2 stretch to take a brief 15-11 lead. Oshkosh responded with another 12-2 run after that and held the lead the rest of the half, en route to a 39-36 halftime advantage.
Oshkosh then tacked on another 11-2 burst to start the second half to post its biggest lead of the game 50-38.
Andre Brown, who eclipsed the 1,000-point career scoring mark in the contest, tacked on 14 of his 18 points in the second half to help Whitewater methodically get back into the game.
“To try to come back and chip and chip against a very good team like this is hard,” Brown said. “You can’t have those little mistakes like this and obviously getting behind is not how we wanted to start.”
Whitewater, nevertheless, drew to within one on two separate occasions, including Malik Clements’ put-back with 1:20 left to make get the Warhawks to within a point at 73-72.
Oshkosh pushed the lead back to five points before Dalton Menke drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 38 seconds left.
That was as close as Whitewater got as Oshkosh improved to 5-0 in the league.
“They just won that 1-on-1 battle,” Miller said. “We had the good possession with Dalton and we were in good position with Melvin but weren’t able to finish the play.”
With very little room for error left, Whitewater will need to finish off games stronger to gain ground in the conference race.
OSHKOSH 82, WHITEWATER 75
Oshkosh (82)—Fravert 9-1-22; Duax 2-0-4; Flynn 5-9-19; Boots 3-8-15; Wittchow 5-6-17; Peterson 1-0-3; Wilman 1-0-2. Totals: 26-24-82
Whitewater (75)—Jensen 1-0-2; Sachs 1-0-2; Brown 6-4-18; Menke 4-0-11; Clements 3-0-8; Bressler 3-0-6; M. Brown 8-10-27; Grintjes 1-1-3. Totals: 26-15-75
UW-Oshkosh 39 43—82
UW-Whitewater 36 39—75
Three-point goals—Oshkosh 6 (Fravert 3, Boots, Wittchow, Peterson), Whitewater 8 (Menke 3, Clements 2, A. Brown 2, M. Brown). Free throws missed—Ohskosh 5, Whitewater 3. Total fouls—Oshkosh 17, Whitewater 23