The St. Olaf men’s basketball team hit the road to take on the Green Knights of St. Norbert College on March 5 in De Pere, Wisc. The Oles headed into the first round of the NCAA tournament looking to build on last season’s playoff rin, which ended with a Sweet Sixteen defeat. With four out of the five starters returning to the NCAA tournament from last season, expectations were high despite the Oles coming into the game as underdogs. Sadly, the Oles once again hit the Sweet Sixtenn wall. In front of a raucous St. Norbert crowd, they lost a nail-biter to the Green Knights 61-63.
Ben Figini ’16 led the Oles on both sides of the ball, scoring 21 points and hauling in 12 rebounds. Austin Majeskie ’17 added a season-high 19 points to help the Oles remain in the game, with Riley Aeikens ’16 and Robert Trobroxen ’18 adding eight and four points respectively. Aeikens’ offensive output during the game helped him become the 21st player in St. Olaf history to reach 1,000 points, a feat reached earlier in the season by Figini and Justin Pahl ’16.
Despite a flurry of baskets late in the first half, which cut St. Norbert’s lead to four, the Oles could not stop the Green Knights. Both teams finished the game with a field goal percentage over .400 despite some of the lowest scoring experienced by both teams this season. The Green Knights managed to hold a one point lead over the Oles throughout much of the second half, heading into the final 22 seconds leading 59-58. After St. Norbert sunk two consecutive free throws, Aeikens threw up a last second three point attempt that rattled in and out of the basket, sealing the victory for the Green Knights and sending the Oles home after one of the closest games of the season.
Despite the tough loss, the Oles can return home with their heads held high. They have reached the national tournament for three consecutive years. The 2014 season was their first tournament appearance in school history. With four out of five starters graduating this year, the team’s younger players will have to step up. They have big shoes to fill. The last three years have been without a doubt the most successful run in St. Olaf men’s basketball history.