DE PERE, Wis.(RiponRedHawks.com) - For the second time in four years, Ripon's men's basketball team is headed to the NCAA Division-III Tournament. The Red Hawks defeated 18th-ranked and top seeded St. Norbert 84-71 Saturday afternoon in the Midwest Conference Tournament Championship Game to earn the MWC's automatic bid to next weekend's NCAA Tourney, which will be Ripon's 14th appearance all-time in the big dance. The win also extended Ripon's current winning streak to 11 games, which is tied for the fifth-longest streak in program history, while also giving them 20 victories on the season, which is tied for sixth in program history, and is the eighth time they have won at least 20 games in a season.
It was a tale of two halves Saturday afternoon. After Ripon (20-7) scored the first five points of the game, the Green Knights (23-4) answered with a 9-2 run to take their first lead of the game. The lead then changed hands six times in the next seven minutes, before St. Norbert scored 10 consecutive points to take a seven-point advantage five minutes before halftime. The Green Knights would lead by as many as 10, but Ripon cut that to a seven point lead at the half.
After Ripon's Ryan Steffes opened the second half with a 3-pointer, St. Norbert hit back-to-back threes of their own to take another 10-point advantage, before Ripon then went on an 18-6 run to take a two-point lead on a layup by Trent Jones with under 13 minutes to play. Jones added a 3-pointer on Ripon's next trip down the court, but St. Norbert cut that lead to three later in the half. The Red Hawks then turned it on in "winning time", scoring nine consecutive points to take a 12-point lead with eight minutes remaining. SNC would never get closer than nine the rest of the way, as Ripon coasted to victory.
Ripon shot 67 percent (16-24) from the field in the second half, while holding St. Norbert to just 37 percent (10-34) shooting after halftime. Jones led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting, while making both of his 3-pointers and both of his free throws. Owen Theune added a career-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double, while Steffes and Kyle Rutkowski chipped in with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
St. Norbert was led by Jared Murphy's 20 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench, while Connor Curtis posted 11 points and five rebounds. Half of the Green Knights' four losses this season came at the hands of the Red Hawks.
Ripon will now find out who, when, and where they will play in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday's selection show at 11:30 a.m., which will be streamed live on NCAA.com. Stay tuned to riponredhawks.com for further updates.