Rock Island, Ill. – Dan Forkrud (Sr./Rosemount, Minn.) scored 18 points and Tommy Drake (So./Eden Prairie, Minn.) added 17 points and 12 rebounds but Carleton College shot only 36 percent in the second half in falling to the University of Wisconsin, Stout, 66-64, in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
Seven-foot Jacob Nonemacher paced the Blue Devils (22-5) with 14 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots and Adam Chandler added 17 points. UW-Stout advances to face the winner og Augustana (Ill.) vs. Buena Vista (Iowa) in a second-round game on Saturday, March 4 at 7 p.m. at Augustana.
The Knights (21-7) ended their best season in school history with a chance to either tie or win with the game’s final possession in the final 12 seconds. Drake drove baseline, but his shot was swatted away by Jacob Nonemacher with seven seconds left. Carleton, out of timeouts, tried to set up a final play on a baseline out-of-bounds play, but turned the ball over with two seconds left.
Jake Phillips (Jr./Brainerd, Minn.) added 15 points for the Knights, making five 3-pointers as the Knights canned a season-high 13 triples. Carleton, though, was only 2-for-15 from inside the arc in the final 20 minutes in losing consecutive games for the first time since mid-December.
“It was the type of game we anticipated," Carleton head coach Guy Kalland said. "I said this was the type of game we needed to have the score around the 30s at halftime and around the 60s in the end. I don’t know if we could have battled any harder, but our two-point shooting wasn’t very good.”
The Knights trailed 34-32 at the half, but Stout scored the first six of the second half. Brian Sharkey (Sr./Bow, N.H./St. Paul’s School) and Phillips knocked down triples, but the Blue Devils responded with a 11-4 run, capped by a Chandler steal and lay-up, giving UW-Stout its largest lead of 51-42 midway through the half.
The Knights answered again with the long ball, as Drake, Phillips and Sharkey canned three-pointers, with Drake’s jumper tying the game at 56-56 with 6 minutes, 38 seconds left. The Knights, though, never took the lead, although Forkrud’s three with 54 seconds left pulled the Knights within one, 65-64. Chandler split on a pair of free throws, giving Carleton its final chance.
“We have good quality kids who are good basketball players, whether we’re winning or losing," Kalland said. reflecting on Carleton's run that culminated in the program's first NCAA Tournament bid in the 95-year history of Carleton men's basketball. "Our team chemistry has been second to none – it doesn’t matter who touches the ball last on offense, nobody cares and nobody’s out here hunting shots and everybody’s involved on the defensive end and on the bench."
“We played hard and it’s been that way all season – it’s been a battle all season and we’ve been in every game we played this season," Forkrud said afterwards. "This team wants to score 80 or 90 points a game and they knew in the first five minutes that wasn’t going to happen.”
The loss brought one of the finest Carleton men's basketball seasons to an end and marked the final game for seniors Forkrud and Sharkey, arguably the heart and soul of this year's MIAC co-champions.
“They’ve been quality guys from day one," Kalland said of his two seniors. "Brian worked extremely hard through the three years to get into starting line-up this year, while Forkrud has started since day one. Dan’s been phenomenal when I look at the MIAC and at Carleton and the records that he holds, but I told them it makes me extremely proud when seniors go out who have been really good players and have their best season as seniors. I think that sets the expectations for the kids coming up through our program.”
The Knights set a school record for most consecutive wins (17) and most wins in a season (21) while capturing the school's first conference men's basketball title in 41 years. The Knights will return three starters and six regulars, including three of its top four scorers, in the 2006-07 season, a fact not lost on Kalland.
“To get to this level, for the guys coming back, we hope that’s something they’ll remember and hopefully will make them a little hungrier to get back and make me a little hungrier to get back here," he said. "Playing basketball in March – there’s not too many people doing that. I thought they represented the league well and the College well all season.”