Northfield, Minn. – Dan Forkrud (Sr./Rosemount, Minn.) scored 26 points, 18 in the first half, as Carleton College built a 19-point lead early in the second half and withstood a Gustavus comeback, as the second-seeded Knights advanced to the MIAC Playoff title game with a 55-48 win over fourth-seeded Gustavus.
The Knights (21-5) now play at top seed St. Thomas in the conference tournament championship game on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. The Tommies defeated sixth seed Hamline, 96-51, in the other semifinal. It marks only the second time in school history the Knights have advanced to the conference championship game and the first time Carleton has beaten Gustavus in the MIAC Playoffs in four tries.
Phil Sowden paced Gustavus (19-8) with 17 points and 10 rebounds, including 10 points and five rebounds in the second half as the Gusties used a 21-5 spurt over an 11-minute span to crawl within three in the final minute.
Jake Phillips (Jr./Brainerd, Minn.) and Jay Melson (Fy./Cottage Grove, Minn./Park) each made two free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal Carleton's 17th consecutive win, Division III's fourth-longest string. Phillips added 12 points for Carleton.
Trevor Wittwer and Adam TeBrake had 11 points each for the Gusties, the three-time defending MIAC Playoff champions. It marks only the third time in the last 11 season Gustavus hasn’t advanced to the MIAC Playoff title game.
After Gustavus grabbed an early lead, the Knights reeled off 13 unanswered points and pushed their lead to 35-20 at the break as Forkrud scored 11 points over a seven-minute stretch late in the half. The Gusties had as many turnovers (8) as they did field goals over the first 20 minutes.
The Knights stretched the advantage to 19 with a quick 9-2 run early in the second half, capped by consecutive lay-ups by Melson and Phillips. Gustavus put the clamps on the Knights, though, as Carleton would make only two field goals over the final 13 minutes and only one, a Forkrud triple, in the final eight minutes. Wittwer scored on a conventional three-point play and Sowden scored on three consecutive possessions, making a 13-point Carleton lead into a four-point margin in a matter of two minutes.
"They did a good job of getting out in the passing lanes," Carleton head coach Guy Kalland said. "When we thought we had some things solved we had some individual miscues with where we were supposed to go with the ball."
The Gusties, though, proceeded to go cold, missing on their next six shots. TeBrake’s split on a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left, but it wasn’t enough as the Knights converted on their free throws down the stretch to beat the Gusties for the third time this season and the fourth time in the last five meetings.
"Even when they had that run when it seemed like they made eight shots in a row and we were struggling, we protected a four-point lead for more than two minutes because they couldn't score on us," Kalland said. "When you go against a good college team like Gustavus and hold them to 48 points, that's no insignificant part of the win."
Kalland acknowledged Forkrud's huge performance but also said his teammates deserved some of the praise. "You have to credit our kids - they know their angles going into Dan," he said. "This is a team [Gustavus] that has some size and does a great job with bringing weak-side help so we had to be a little patient."
Kalland was also pleased with his team's poise down the stretch, something the Knights have displayed during the 17-game winning streak. "We don't preach it but we do talk about it a lot - we've been there before and we've found a way to get it done," Kalland said. "It starts at the defensive end because we're defending well."
Kalland and the Knights now advance to the conference title game and have moved a step closer to earning up the school's first bid to the NCAA Tournament. "You get some dividends of knocking out a 15-point halftime lead and it was a nice win for our club," Kalland said.