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Men’s basketball loses in WIAC first round after impressive season

February 25, 2015

The UW-River Falls men’s basketball team went into its final week of the season needing two wins to secure the third seed in the WIAC tournament, which would be its highest finish since 2012 when the Falcons finished second.

The Falcons played and defeated both the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds and the UW-Platteville Pioneers en route to a surprising third place WIAC finish. Both games, which were at home, favored the Falcons’ strengths as the Falcons finished with a 7-3 home record in the regular season. The Falcons then were matched up in the first round with the Blugolds, a team they had defeated twice during the regular season.

CJ Lewis (right) searches for a teammate while a UW-Eau Claire opponent blocks his vision.
CJ Lewis (right) searches for a teammate while a UW-Eau Claire opponent blocks his vision. The Falcons lost to Eau Claire 81-79 in overtime in the first round of the WIAC tournament in the Karges Center on Feb. 24. (Kathy M Helgeson/University Communications)

This Falcons team was one of its youngest ever, during the non-conference schedule the Falcons had just two wins out of the WIAC. This Falcons team also struggled with close games this season, losing eight out of its 14 games by three points or less.

In the WIAC tournament game against UW-Eau Claire, the Falcons led by seven at halftime before heading to overtime and falling to the Blugolds by a score of 81-79. Head Coach Jeff Berkhof had nothing but praise for his team.

“We had a bunch of new guys, coming off a real not-so-good season, you know, I had a really good feeling we were going to be pretty solid, but we didn’t know until we started meshing these guys together, they did a super job, winning games in our conference isn’t easy to go 10-6 in the WIAC,” Berkhof said.

The Falcons players indeed bought into Berkhof’s system, as the team slowly meshed throughout the season. Players like sophomore point guard Grant Erickson, who led the WIAC in assist-to-turnover ratio, said the Falcons knew all along, even in the rough patches of the season, that the team was going to be impressive.

“It wasn’t really a shock to us how we preformed this season, we were bringing in a lot of good recruits and transfers, we didn’t have the best start to our season but we battled through it, it is not easy winning games in the WIAC,” Erickson said. “We are a tough group, we battled, we are close, which helps. It has been a great experience and I wouldn’t change it.”

The Falcons finished the regular season on a tear, winning five of its last seven games in the WIAC, its only two losses to the teams who finished first and second in the WIAC respectively. The Falcons in the regular season were led by junior forward Jon Christensen in scoring at 13.8 points per game and Erickson at 10.2 points per game.

Christensen led the team in double-doubles as he notched four and Erickson also led the team in assists and had almost double the amount of free throws, 134, than the second player at 70.

The Falcons’ off-season now begins. UWRF hits the court again in November in the 2015-2016 season, with higher expectations this time around.