Sophomore guard Cody Odegaard scored a game-high 29 points to lead hot-shooting Wisconsin-Whitewater (25-4) to an easy 91-62 victory over St. Thomas (22-7) in the NCAA Division-III second round playoff action Saturday night, ending the defending national champion Tommies’ season.
The Warhawks, playing on their home court, shot 61 percent from the field, while the Tommies struggled to find a rhythm offensively and couldn’t stop Whitewater at the other end, either.
Coach John Tauer gave Whitewater credit, saying the team did a solid job in exploiting St. Thomas defensive plan in shutting down center Chris Davis, who dropped 35 points against Northwestern Friday night.
“I thought we did a good job on (Davis), but you give up some things when you help so hard on a player, and to (Whitewater’s) credit, the perimeter guys shot 61 percent from the three,” Tauer said.
Junior guard John Nance led St. Thomas with 20 points, but he didn’t get much help. Freshman center Conner Nord scored 10 for the Tommies, but turnovers and a 31-21 Warhawk rebounding edge kept the Tommies from getting back into the game.
Nance explained that he felt more confident offensively tonight due to a more “focused” shoot-around that allowed him to get more “used to the hoops.”
After St. Thomas jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead to start the game, Wisconsin-Whitewater controlled the remainder of the half. The Warhawks went on a 10-0 run behind quick guard freshman guard Quardell Young, shooting 59 percent from the field and 91 percent from the free throw line.
Whitewater led by as many as 17 points before the Tommies made a mini-run before the half ended on a long 3-pointer by junior guard Will Deberg to close to 42-30 at the break. But after a Nord layup to close to 42-32, the Tommies got no closer than 10 the rest of the way. The lead grew to more than 20 with 12 minutes left.
Tauer said the strength of the Warhawk players prevented his team from getting many easy looks.
“When you get down 15 or 18, you start taking quicker shots and that’s where things can get away,” Tauer said.
Deberg, who had eight points in the game, described losing in the first weekend of NCAA tournament play as “tough.”
“We knew coming in to the season that we were going to have a target on our back,” Deberg said.
Tauer took over the head coaching position after Steve Fritz retired last spring. In his first season, despite losing senior forward Tommy Hannon to an injury early on, he led the Tommies to both regular season and conference playoff championships. Despite this “incredibly disappointing” loss, Tauer said his team is still proud of its successful season.
“We played our hearts out all year and tonight did not go our way, but that does not detract from anything these guys accomplished,” Tauer said. “We also hold our heads high in defeat and tip our caps to Whitewater.”
St. Thomas defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the NCAA first round in overtime; Whitewater had little trouble with Northwestern (Minn.) in the other half of the bracket. With the win, Whitewater advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.
Tauer believes the Warhawks could make a deep run in the tournament if they play like they did Saturday.
“There’s no question that they can play with anybody in the country,” Tauer said. “When they get in a rhythm like they did tonight, I see them going a long way.”
Hayley Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.