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Falcons men’s basketball season comes to an end in Oshkosh

February 22, 2007

The Falcons men’s basketball team saw their season come to an end Tuesday night, losing to UW-Oshkosh 83-65. The quarterfinals of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Tournament matched up sixth seed UW-River Falls with third seed UW-Oshkosh, which is ranked as the seventh best team in the country, according to d3hoops.com.

“Oshkosh is good enough to beat anyone in the country,” UWRF head coach Jeff Berkhof said. “Oshkosh could go all the way and win a national championship. One thing they have is senior leadership.”

Oshkosh, behind 20 points from senior Jim Capelle, 18 points from 7’1″ senior Kerry Gibson, and with 20 points from freshman D.J. Marsh, shot 55 percent from the field in the team’s victory over the Falcons.

“The biggest problem was that we didn’t defend,” Berkhof said.

River Falls tried a small lineup early, replacing starting center Nate Robertson with 6’2″ guard Courtney Davis. Davis scored a game-high 21 points, but neither the small lineup, nor any other lineup was able to slow down the Oshkosh offense.

“I think not talking on defense probably hurt us the most during the game,” freshman guard Jontae Koonkaew said.

A polar opposite of Oshkosh, the Falcons had no seniors on the roster this season. With a first-year head coach and a young group of players, UWRF exceeded the expectations of most by finishing the regular season with a 5-11 conference record to finish 6th in the WIAC.

The fact that the Falcons will not lose any seniors along with the potential that this team has helped to ease the pain of a season-ending loss for some of the players.

“It’s encouraging because we know we kind of get a second shot, which teams never really get,” freshman forward Nate Robertson said.

With a strong freshmen class that includes Koonkaew and Robertson, who both started the majority of the games this season, the future could be bright for UWRF.

“We got a good base for the future in Jontae and Nate,” Berkhof said. “They can be very good, but they both have things to work on. Everybody needs to work on getting better. I’m going to work on getting better, and we can really make a splash next year.”

Even though the Falcons will not lose any seniors this off-season, the players, coaches and athletic director Rick Bowen know that some pieces need to be added for next year.

“The success of [Koonkaew and Robertson’s] careers is going to depend upon the type of players that the new coach can surround them with,” Bowen said.

One piece of the puzzle that seems to be absent from the current roster is a lot of height.

“We need another big guy,” Robertson said. “We need some more size.”

Berkhof said he agrees that the team needs to get longer, but that ultimately, the Falcons just need to add some better basketball players.

“As enjoyable as the season was for me, we were still 10-16 [overall],” Berkhof said. “I plan on doing a better job next year as coach, because obviously I’ve learned a lot this year and I also think that the players we have need to get better and we have to get some new, better players.”

Bowen, who spent the past 20 years coaching the Falcons before this season, said he thinks Berkhof did a good job taking over for him this season.

“I was hoping it wasn’t going to be a four or a five win season,” Bowen said. “I’m tickled to death at the fact they won 10 games.”

Chancellor Donald Betz ultimately has the responsibility of choosing whether or not to retain Interim Head Coach Jeff Berkhof for next season, but Bowen will be involved in the decision as well. Bowen had no comment as to if Berkhof had an inside track at retaining the position. Koonkaew and Robertson have already came out and supported Berkhof as head coach.

“I think we should keep him,” Koonkaew said. “Coach Berkhof is more hip to the younger kids’ game, and he knows what he’s talking about.”

Despite exiting early from the WIAC Conference Tournament on Tuesday, Koonkaew said he believes the Falcons have a great chance to win the conference in the very near future.

“I think we have to,” Koonkaew said. “I think we have a great opportunity next year, and if not that, we have a great opportunity in the years to come.”