DWU men bested by Viterbo comeback at Corn Palace – Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — The Dakota Wesleyan men’s basketball team looked to be on its way to a victory in the New Year Wednesday evening at the Corn Palace.

However, Viterbo University staged an improbable comeback.

The V-Hawks, out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, defeated the Tigers 90-89 after erasing a 23-point DWU lead with 14 minutes remaining, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the process. It’s also the first time DWU has lost to Viterbo, having won its two previous meetings all-time.

“We’ve been struggling lately,” said V-Hawks head coach Wayne Wagner. “(Tonight) was just about getting back to playing hard so we’re building towards something down the road. I didn’t expect to see this big of a turnaround because (DWU) was picking us apart.”

Jakob Dobney began the game by draining a three-pointer, as both the Tigers and V-Hawks played even through the first five minutes of the game. Following substitutions, DWU went on a 13-3 scoring run with its second unit, as Oliver Vincent picked up five points and Diang Gatluak and Ethan Determan each contributing offensively.

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DWU’s Nick Wittler (4) puts up a contested 3-pointer during the Tigers’ game against Viterbo (Wis.) Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Corn Palace.

Blake Durham / Mitchell Republic

Nick Wittler made consecutive 3-pointers and converted a 4-point play to open up a 30-17 lead for the Tigers at the 8:54 mark in the first half. They went into the break up 48-33 courtesy of 16 bench points to the V-Hawks’ two points.

“I thought there were really good moments,” Tigers head coach Matt Wilber said about his team’s second unit. “When you play three freshmen, it’s hard to get stops in college going up against a lot of juniors and seniors. We got stops, and the experience you hope they take away is the sense of urgency defensively that needs to be had.”

DWU extended its lead on 3-pointers from Randy Rosenquist Jr. and Sam Aslesen, as the Tigers shot 51.4% from behind the arc overall. A Gatluak 3-pointer made the lead 23 points with 13:59 remaining in the game. Gatluak finished with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting with two rebounds and two assists off the bench.

Viterbo began its comeback on a Ben Olson layup, as the V-Hawks went on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to seven points with around seven and a half minutes to go. Olson was 9-of-10 shooting in the second half, scoring 19 points, as DWU switched into a zone defense to try and confuse Viterbo, who responded by forcing pressure on both ends of the floor.

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DWU’s Ethan Determan (left) cuts back to his left against Viterbo’s Colin Adams during the Tigers’ game against the V-Hawks Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Corn Palace.

Blake Durham / Mitchell Republic

“We stayed aggressive and we got through some things a little more,” Wagner said. “Then we turned the pressure up on defense too. Our rotational guys played pretty aggressive and I think it took them a little out of their offense too. Those were the big things that opened the door for us from there.”

Viterbo took a 79-78 lead on a Jack Monis jump shot. Blaze Lubbers drained a pair of 3-point baskets to help keep the game at one possession, but a 3-point play by Colin Adams with 10 seconds left proved decisive against Tigers, who gave up 57 points in the second half and struggled in transition as the intensity picked up.

“We weren’t getting back as quickly and as set with our transition defense,” Wilber said. “Then everything just started going in for them. But when you give up 57 points (in one half), everything can be questioned and everything can be talked about in that regard.”

For the game, Viterbo (6-9) shot 60.7% from the field, going 23-of-30 in the second half. Monis posted a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds. Cole Crubel had 19 points, going 3-of-4 from the 3-point line. Adams finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with six boards, five assists, and a pair of blocks.

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DWU’s Randy Rosenquist Jr. (left) puts up a floater from the free-throw line during the Tigers’ game against Viterbo (Wis.) Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Corn Palace.

Blake Durham / Mitchell Republic

For DWU, Dobney scored 21 of his 24 points in the first half, shooting 5-of-9 from behind the arc. He also picked up five rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Aslesen scored 14 points, collecting a pair of blocks. Wittler was 4-of-5 from the 3-point line, ending the game with 10 points.

Dakota Wesleyan (8-7, 3-4 GPAC) resumes conference play Saturday, Jan. 6, traveling to face Concordia (Neb.) at 3:45 p.m. GPAC play promises plenty of tough foes, making a result like Wednesday’s contest hard to swallow.

“We got some really tough games coming up,” Wilber said. “That’s why this one’s tough since we’re probably underdogs in those, so we’ll see how they bounce back.”

Blake Durham is a Sports Reporter for the Mitchell Republic, having joined in October of 2023. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in December of 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Durham can be found covering a variety of prep and collegiate sports in the area.

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