By DOUG HENNES
Will DeBerg’s shooting woes came to an end on Sunday.
The St. Thomas senior guard, in his own words, had been “struggling a bit” the last two games, scoring only 15 points on 4 of 12 shooting from the field in wins over Carleton and St. Olaf, including 1 for 6 from three-point range. He decided to hit the gym for a little extra shooting practice on his own “to work things out.”
The work paid off in the MIAC playoff championship game against Augsburg in Schoenecker Arena. The sharpshooter from Edina hit a three-pointer to draw his team even late in the first half and exploded for five straight treys after intermission to lead the Tommies to a 92-65 win and a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. They will learn their next opponent on Monday.
“The guys did a good job of finding me in open areas,” said DeBerg, who finished with 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc. “Once you hit a couple in a row, it seems you can’t miss. I was just in one of those zones, I guess.”
The win gave the Tommies (26-1) their record 12th MIAC playoff championship, including seven of the last eight, to go with their record eight consecutive regular-season titles. The 92 points tied a conference record for most points scored in a title game, and the 27-point title game margin was the largest since the playoff format began in 1985.
PHOTO: Will DeBerg
Another milestone came with four minutes remaining in the game. Tommy Hannon hit a layup to give him 22 points on the afternoon and 1,001 points in his career. He's only the ninth player to surpass 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, all while wearing a St. Thomas uniform (see list below).
“I didn’t know I was close until I heard someone yell that I needed one more point,” said Hannon, a senior center from Cretin-Derham Hall. “I think it was my cousin! The basket came on a good pass from Erik (Tengwall). He easily could have taken a three but he passed it off –- it shows the unselfishness on this team.”
While pleased to finally exceed 1,000 points, Hannon figured he would reach the mark eventually because “we hope to go deep in the NCAA tournament. I wanted to do it for my grandpa, who died last summer. He wanted me to hit 1,000.”
As Carleton did in the semifinal game Friday night, Augsburg played St. Thomas close for most of the first half, which saw two ties and six lead changes. The Auggies grabbed a 25-20 lead on back-to-back three-pointers by Tyler Schmidt and were up 35-32 when DeBerg got hot. He had taken –- and missed –- only one shot at that point, feeling he didn’t have good chances.
“I just let the play come to me,” he said. “I didn’t want to force anything, so I just concentrated on setting up my teammates.”
DeBerg made a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game with 1:38 to go, and junior forward Zach Riedeman hit one the next trip down the floor to give the Tommies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Tengwall finished off the blast by nailing his own three-pointer at the buzzer for a 41-35 lead.
“Things just snowballed from there,” Coach John Tauer said.
DeBerg made five straight three-pointers in the opening 7:25 of the second half, fueling a 24-12 run that boosted the Tommies’ lead to 65-47. DeBerg wasn’t alone in the outburst – Marcus Alipate and Taylor Montero followed with two quick treys of their own, meaning 10 of 14 St. Thomas field goals over a 12:20 span were three-pointers.
“It’s can be contagious,” DeBerg said of the way the long shots fell and how six Tommies hit three-pointers. “Everybody feeds off it when somebody gets hot.”
“It is contagious,” Tauer agreed, “but so is our defensive energy. We’re going to have spells during a game when we miss shots, and good defense can sustain us. It kept us in the game in the first half until we got hot.”
For the afternoon, St. Thomas hit 58 percent from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range – exceeding its No. 1 ranking among Division III programs in field-goal percentage (53 percent). The Tommies outrebounded Augsburg 35-25, overcoming a 10-rebound, 20-point effort from junior center Dan Kornbaum. Andy Seidlitz had 13 points and eight assists for the Auggies.
St. Thomas may receive a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, but Tauer hopes his team will be able to play Saturday instead of having a two-week break. There will be two first-round byes in the 62-team field, and St. Thomas is ranked No. 1 in the d3hoops.com poll.
The Tommies have a 30-14 MIAC playoff record and are 12-0 over the last four seasons in conference and NCAA post-season games on campus. They have a 39-3 record in Schoenecker Arena since it opened in 2010.
Hannon now sits at No. 30 in St. Thomas history for most points (1,001) and No. 18 for rebounds (551). Others who have reached the 1,000-500 level include eight who did it solely with UST stats on their careers -- Bob Rosier (2,133-1,330), Steve Fritz (1,944- 915), Isaac Roosefelt (1,367-859), Dan Hansard (1,320-803), Tom Randall (1,225-735), Dave Palecek (1,160-1,171), Mike Gitzen (1,149-721) and Kip Sparby (1,414-609). A few players like current assistant Mike Keating hit the 1000/500 milestones with points from a previous school included.
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Tommy Hannon gets point number 999 (Mike Ekern photo)
The UST student section erupts (Mike Ekern photo)
Erik Tengwall (Mike Ekern photo)
Coach John Tauer (right) celebrates with Tommy Hannon and John Nance (Mike Ekern photo)