Wayne State men snubbed by NCAA Tournament committee

Austin Svehla, Reporter

Despite a season in which the Wayne State men’s basketball team achieved a tie for first in the NSIC South, amassed their first 20-win season in nearly two decades and made a trip to the conference tournament semifinals, the Wildcats were not granted an at-large bid to compete in the NCAA DII Men’s Basketball Tournament. WSC’s season came to an end at the Pentagon Center in Sioux Falls after an overtime defeat to Southwest Minnesota State in the NSIC/Sanford Health Conference Tournament semifinals.

“I thought, going into the selection show, that we were going to get a bid,” Head Coach Jeff Kaminsky said. “I knew there was certainly a possibility that we would not, but I certainly felt strongly that our guys deserved a chance to play in the national tournament. I think our body of work the entire season certainly proved that we would be able to compete at a high level regardless of who we play.”

Despite the national tournament rejection, WSC earned two victories in the conference tournament, the first of those coming against U-Mary in a dominant 84-62 showing at Rice Auditorium on Feb. 27.

“Mary was coming off a significant win over Moorhead and playing with a lot of confidence,” Kaminsky said. “We knew we were going to have to play well that night to win.”

A sluggish Wildcat start allowed the Marauders to jump out to an 11-6 lead just over three minutes into the contest. Trevin Joseph cut that lead to two with a contested three for his second basket of the evening. After U-Mary gained a 16-11 advantage, Joseph nailed another three to again bring the Wildcats within a bucket at the 13:53 mark of the first half.

Each team traded buckets over the next three minutes but after Joseph put the Wildcats up 22-20 with a layup at the 10:45 mark, WSC never relinquished the lead. U-Mary kept the Wildcat lead at two up until the 2:29 mark of the half. Leading 32-30, WSC closed the first half on an 11-5 run courtesy of a layup from Nick Ferrarini and nine consecutive points from Joseph to give the Wildcats a 43-35 halftime lead.

“We were able to get a lot of stops and force turnovers,” Kaminsky said. “Trevin can score in a variety of ways, but I think he has those big nights when we’re able to get out in transition and make some things happen.”

After the Marauders cut the WSC lead to 48-41 at the 17:29 mark of the second half, the Wildcats went on a 16-4 run over to take a commanding 64-45 advantage. WSC went 6-7 from the field during the six-minute span.

“We just really got after them on defense,” Vance Janssen said. “Our defense turned into offense and we forced them into a bunch of turnovers. We got out in transition and set the tone and we’re shutting teams down like that on defense, we just have a lot of energy to play on offense.”

U-Mary had no answer the remainder of the way, as WSC never led by less than 19 points the remainder of the game and led by as many as 25. The 22-point victory allowed Kendall Jacks, Joseph and Janssen to end their home game careers on a high note. Joseph led all scorers with 28 on the night while Jacks poured in 15 and Jordan Janssen had 13 of his own. WSC shot 61 percent from the field, including 8 of 16 from downtown. The victory over U-Mary gave WSC win number 20 of the season.

“One thing I want to comment on is how special the atmosphere was that night,” Kaminsky said.  “That was by far our best crowd of the year, and I think that made it that much more special for the guys.”

The triumph set up a showdown with Gage Davis and St. Cloud State on Mar. 3 at the Pentagon Center in Sioux Falls.

“I haven’t seen a better player nationally than Gage,” Kaminsky said. “I would have liked to have said our game plan was to allow Gage to get 40 or 50 and make it tough for anyone else to score and we’ll still win the game. Regardless of what our game plan was on Gage, he’s just too talented, he’s going to score.”

The plan for Wayne State was to make it difficult for Davis to score as easily as he did in the teams’ first matchup, a 90-79 SCSU victory in which Davis dropped 46 points. Davis managed a hard-earned 47 in the second go-around, but it wasn’t enough to sink the Wildcats.

Facing a 15-11 deficit five and a half minutes into the game, WSC took the lead on a 7-0 run courtesy of a Ferrarini jumper, a Joseph 3-pointer and a layup from Ferrarini.

Davis converted on a three-point play opportunity to tie the game at 18-18 before Wayne State went on another run, this one an 11-0 scoring spurt courtesy of a Ben Dentlinger free throw, a Joseph three-pointer, a layup from both Jacks and Dentlinger and another three from Joseph. The surge gave the Wildcats a 29-18 advantage at the 9:06 mark of the first half.

“I thought our guys were locked in,” Kaminsky said. “That’s a really talented St. Cloud team that I think is capable of competing with anybody nationally. They’re really that good.”

WSC led by as many as 13 through the remainder of the first half as they saw Davis cut the SCSU deficit to nine with a 3-pointer with just two seconds left in the half to make the score 48-39 in favor of WSC after 20 minutes of play.

In the first half, WSC outscored SCSU 28-18 in the paint and held the advantage in fast break points at 11-4.

At multiple points in the second half, the Huskies cut the Wayne State lead to one or two possessions. For most of the second half, however, Wayne State responded to each SCSU spurt to reextend their lead to three or four possessions.

At the 18:00 mark, Davis cut the lead to 50-46 before Jacks, Vance Janssen and Dentlinger each scored on layups to increase the Wildcat lead to 56-46. SCSU’s Jace Kitchen cut the Husky deficit to 60-57 at the 9:55 mark but just over a minute later, Jordan Janssen tipped home a miss from Jacks to give WSC a five-point lead. That lead grew to 10 over the next four-plus minutes of play after a Joseph 3-pointer with 4:10 remaining in the game.

Davis simply wouldn’t allow the Huskies to let the Wildcats walk out on their own terms, almost single-handedly willing SCSU to victory. Despite Davis scoring 12 of SCSU’s last 17 points, WSC made enough plays down the stretch. With WSC leading 75-73 with :06 left, Vance Janssen knocked down two free throws to increase the Wildcat lead to four. Davis hit a three to make it a one-point game but Ferrarini caught the ensuing inbounds pass and threw it ahead as time expired to seal WSC a trip in the semifinals.

“Ironically, I think we did a much better job this game on Gage in making him work for things,” Kaminsky said. “We put some different matchups on him just to put some size on him, but I thought we really made him work for everything.”

Four Wildcats scored in double figures, with Jacks and Joseph leading the way with 20 and 19 respectively. Vance Janssen had 11 and Jordan Janssen had 10 for the Wildcats, who shot 46 percent on the night.

“I didn’t get to go [to the Pentagon] my first three years but we got to go this year playing in the conference tournament and it’s just a whole different atmosphere,” Janssen said. “I’m really glad for the younger kids on our team who got to experience that now, so they’ll be hungry to go back there again.”

The victory over the north’s second seed set up a semifinal showdown the next day with the south’s fifth seed, Southwest Minnesota State, who WSC defeated twice in the regular season.

“Part of the tournament is you have a big win, and you’ve got to turn around the next day and there’s a physical component and mental component,” Kaminsky said. “I thought our guys did a great job of moving on from the St. Cloud game and getting ready for a little bit different team.”

The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team gaining more than a three-point advantage until the 8:49 mark when Ferrarini hit a three to give the Wildcats a 20-16 lead. Vance Janssen hit a fallback jumper and Nate Mohr connected on a three to give WSC a 25-16 advantage with 7:43 left in the half.

“It’s just tough to beat a team three times,” Janssen said. “I think we really controlled the game. First half, they were making a lot of shots.”

The Wildcats held a 29-21 lead at the 5:54 mark when SMSU went on a 7-0 run to cut WSC’s lead to a point. From that point, a similar back-and-forth affair displayed in the first 11 minutes of the game ensued through the final 4:15 of the half. The Mustangs held a 39-37 lead after a half of play.

The ’Cats scored the first seven points of the second half off a Joseph layup, a Vance Janssen 3-pointer and a Jordan Janssen layup to take a 44-39 lead. That lead steadily increased for WSC, who gained a 60-50 lead after a pair of Jacks free throws with 8:28 left in regulation.

Much like the first half, the Mustangs gradually cut into the Wayne State lead as the second half neared an end. With WSC leading 65-58 with 4:33 left to play, SMSU used a Taylor Schafer jumper, a pair of Kenny Byers free throws and a layup from Byers to narrow the Wildcat lead to 65-64.

Ferrarini knocked down a pair of free throws at the 1:23 mark to give WSC a 67-64 lead. SMSU’s Ryan Bruggeman earned himself six free throw attempts over the next minute plus, making five of them, to put the Mustangs in front, 69-67 with just 15 seconds remaining.

On the Wildcats’ last possession, Vance Janssen found Jordan Janssen under the bucket with less than three seconds left. Jordan gathered Vance’s pass and laid it in with his left hand with a second left to tie the game at 69 apiece and force overtime.

“The second half we kind of took control of the game and it really just came down to free throws,” Janssen said. “We missed free throws late. I think we missed two front ends of one-and-ones and two other times we missed a free throw in the last five minutes of the game.”

Through the first two minutes of overtime, the game remained tied, 75-75. With 2:23 left, SMSU’s Michael Lee found Schafer in the right corner for a three to give the Mustangs a 78-75 lead. Mohr answered back with a clutch three of his own to knot the game at 78-78 with 2:02 left. With 1:04 left, Bruggeman found Lee, who knocked down another three for the Mustangs to give SMSU the lead once again. WSC came up empty on their final two possessions while SMSU hit three of four free throws to seal an 84-78 overtime victory.

The loss eliminated the Wildcats from the NSIC Tournament but hope still remained that WSC could earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.

After the conclusion of the regular season, Wayne State sat in 10th place in the NCAA Central Region rankings. Eight teams from each of the eight regions across the country qualify for the NCAA Tournament, with the three conference champions in each region automatically qualifying and the remaining five earning at-large bids given by the selection committee. The Wildcats jumped into seventh in the Mar. 6 edition of the rankings but were not granted an at-large bid by the selection committee this past Sunday night.

“I would say we were pretty confident [we would receive a bid],” Janssen said. “For the most part, we thought we did enough to get in. It was pretty much between us and Mankato and I think when it came down to it, they just looked at the fact that Mankato had beaten us twice.”

Vance, Joseph and Jacks are all set to graduate in May, leaving voids that must be filled by current and incoming Wildcats next season.

“When I got here, we won five games my freshman year and now we won 21 games this year,” Janssen said. “The program is taking big steps and I’m proud that I’ve been able to be a part of that and I think it’s set up in the future for success.”