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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette The Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans practice Thursday for today's Division III Final Four at Memorial Coliseum. The Titans (27-3) were the national runners-up a year ago and are the lone Final Four returnee.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh guard Brett Wittchow looks to pass the ball during practice at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday.  

Friday, March 15, 2019 1:00 am

NCAA Division III Final Four

Familiar opponents facing off

Wheaton prevailed in November game with UW-Oshkosh

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

What: NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championships

When: Today: Wisconsin-Oshkosh vs. Wheaton (Ill.), 8 p.m.; Saturday, semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Tickets: Adults, $15.50-$26; students/seniors/military, $10.50-$16; 5-under, free; ticketmaster.com

Website: www.muspartans.com/NCAA

Wisconsin-Oshkosh is no stranger to this position.

The Titans arrived in Fort Wayne, marking their second consecutive NCAA Division III Final Four men's basketball appearance. And after a heartbreaking 78-72 loss to Nebraska Wesleyan in the title game last season, the Titans want to leave Indiana with a national championship.

“It was definitely something I think about a lot and just use it as a drive to get back to the national championship game and have a different outcome,” junior center Jack Flynn said.

While the other Final Four teams (Wheaton, Christopher Newport and Swarthmore) were relative surprises to get here, UW-Oshkosh's return didn't really shock anybody.

“I think sometimes guys would just sit back after last year and just kind of hope that it would happen again but our guys didn't take that approach,” first-year head coach Matt Lewis said. “They've really invested a lot in each other to earn the right to get back here and play in Fort Wayne.”

The Titans (27-3) continue to push the program record for wins in a season behind four players averaging double figures in scoring.

Senior guard Ben Boots leads the team with 15.7 points per game while junior forward Adam Fravert averages 14.6.

In a rare occurrence, Friday's second semifinal matchup features two teams who've already played once this season. The Titans face a Wheaton (Illinois) team they saw in November, an 85-74 Wheaton win.

Wheaton (23-8) star point guard Aston Francis scored 45 points in that game. Francis scored 62 points in Wheaton's 91-87 win over Marietta last weekend to reach the championship.

“He's really good there's no question, but we just gotta play Titan basketball,” Lewis said. “We know who we are, we believe in who we are and us trying to change our self because of the opponent that's not good coaching, good on the guys part. We've just got to be confident in what we've been doing.”

Wheaton coach Mike Schauer acknowledged that while his team is known for Francis' scoring ability (he's averaging 33 points) the Thunder's defense has been key in reaching the finals.

“Luke's (Anthony) as good a perimeter defender as I've had, and he's guarded some of the absolute best perimeter players in the country all year,” Schauer said. “If either one of us can kind of execute a defensive game plan that teams going to have a significant advantage.”

Francis, just named the Jostens Trophy award winner, said he expects a different UW-Oshkosh team than he saw in November. The Jostens Trophy recognizes outstanding student-athletes in Division III basketball for excellence in the classroom, on the court and in their communities.

“They've only gotten better since the beginning of the year,” Francis said. “We expect another battle. It's going to be a hard-fought game. They have a lot of good players, and we're ready for the challenge.”

Schauer, in his 10th year as head coach, has the honor of leading his alma mater to its first Final Four appearance.

“It's special to me. I don't see it as an accomplishment as a coach, it's way bigger than that for me,” Schauer said. “It's a program accomplishment of which I am a small part, but I used to put that jersey on, so it means a lot.”

ewyman@jg.net