The Briar Cliff men’s basketball team faced St. Thomas in the Sweet 16 of this year’s NAIA DII Men’s Basketball National Championships tournament at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Friday with the Chargers rolling past the Bobcats with a 90-74 victory to advance to the Elite 8 on Saturday where the Cliff will face IU East, the number one team in the nation, at 2 p.m. in Sioux Falls. Freshman guard Ethan Freidel played a stellar game for BC, dropping in 25 points to aid the Cliff in the blowout win. The Chargers head into the contest at 23-7 overall, while the Red Wolves bring a record of 33-2 into the Elite 8 matchup. The Elite 8 game will mark the third time in program history that the Chargers have advanced this far in the national tournament.
Briar Cliff led wire-to-wire in the victory over St. Thomas and had its biggest lead of the game of 27 points with 7:52 left in regulation. The Chargers outscored the Bobcats 51-30 in the first half and St. Thomas had a 44-39 edge after intermission in their attempted comeback. The three-ball propelled the offense for the Blue & Gold with 12 triples in the game, compared to only two for St. Thomas. Jackson Lamb and Freidel were snipers from long range for BC with Lamb dropping in five threes and Freidel splashed in four long balls. As a team, the Chargers shot 48.2 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from long range and 88.9 percent from the free throw line, while the Bobcats shot 45.8 percent from the field, 25.0 percent from distance and 69.2 percent from the stripe.
“The energy we played with out of the gates was a big key to our success. I thought we were really locked in on the defensive end to how we wanted to execute our game plan and obviously making some early threes has a tendency to get us going on the offensive end,” remarked Briar Cliff Head Coach Mark Svagera. “We took a lot of punches from St. Thomas, especially in the second half, but I was really proud of the way our guys fought. We have to give a lot of credit to Blake Wiltgen and Austin Roetman as they battled the bigs of St. Thomas for all 40 minutes. He got a lot of points and hurt us at times but I thought those guys really made him work for it.”
A trio of Chargers powered the offensive attack with Freidel, Lamb and Jay Wolfe combining for 66 of the team’s 90 points. Freidel led all players with 25 points, trailed by Lamb with 21 and Wolfe tossed in 20 points. The Chargers were also 24-27 from the free throw line in the game with Freidel (9-9), Erich Erdman (6-6) and Lamb (4-4) all being perfect at the stripe. All six of Erdman’s points came at the free throw line as he led the team in assists with four. Wiltgen and Josh Belling also added six points apiece, while Roetman chipped in four points and Dylan Janecek netted two points. Wolfe and Lamb shared the team lead in rebounds with six each and Lamb and Janecek had team-highs in steals with two apiece.
“I really wanted to play another game with these guys as we went out there and showed St. Thomas what we can do and we will carry a lot of confidence into tomorrow,” stated Freidel. “I have a lot of confidence in myself and once my first shot went down it was like shooting in the ocean from there. My teammates also have a lot of confidence in me and when I got it going they were looking to get me the ball. Teamwork was a big key to our win today. Everybody on this team played a huge roll in this win. We have to go into tomorrow knowing that if we play like we did today we can play with anyone in the country.”
Raheem Bowman paced the Bobcats in scoring and rebounding with a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds. Khalil Williams scored 15 points, Mikhail Rolle added 13 points and Darwin Trotman notched in 10 points.
When asked about the matchup with IU East Svagera stated, “IU East is a really good team, they are the number one team in the country for a reason. They are very balanced offensively and very aggressive and get after you defensively. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to go to battle with my guys.”
The game between Briar Cliff and IU East will be just the second time that the two teams have ever played each other. The last meeting will be almost exactly two years to the date and will once again be an Elite 8 matchup. The Chargers and Red Wolves clashed in the 2016 national tournament on March 12th with IU East grinding out an 83-81 victory over the Cliff. Lucas Huffman sank Briar Cliff’s season that year with a driving layup with 6.6 seconds left to put the Red Wolves up to before the Chargers scrambled down the court but could not get a shot off before the buzzer sounded. IU East needed double overtime to squeeze past Oklahoma Wesleyan this morning with a final score of 82-77 to advance to the Elite 8. Bishop Smith was the leading scorer for the Red Wolves with 19 points and Jaylen McKay was next with 18 points.