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Falcon men’s basketball shatters consecutive win record

February 1, 2017

The UW-River Falls men’s basketball team eclipsed its program record of 16 consecutive wins on Saturday, knocking off UW-Stevens Point 67-51.

The 18-1 Falcons have been on an incredible run since a November loss to Hope College.  The winning streak has pushed the team to a program-high No. 4 overall in the d3hoops.com poll and has given it an 8-0 start to conference play in the WIAC.

The team was only picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason, but expectations have steadily risen as the team’s success has grown.

“I had high expectations coming in this season. We’ve definitely met them, but we can still play a lot better than we have,” sophomore guard Clay Seifert said.

With a new mix of transfers and freshman stepping up, the Falcons have consistently improved in a variety of ways since the opening weeks of the season.

“We’ve been getting better defensively each week as we finish the conference season. I’ve also been impressed with this new team’s ability to gel offensively and play well together,” Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said.

Alex Herink has made the most immediate impact for the Falcons, averaging about 17 points per game and leading the team in minutes, field goal percentage and blocks. Herink’s two game-winning shots have also helped the Falcons sneak past Eau Claire and Stevens Point at home.

“I didn’t expect Alex to be doing the things he’s doing for us right now. He’s been clutch for us in the big moments, and he’s consistent by bringing it every night and working hard,” junior guard Devin Buckley said.

But to say this team’s turnaround has been led by one player wouldn’t give the depth of the team credit. Berkhof routinely goes about 11 or 12 players deep in his rotation and said he feels comfortable with basically anyone on his bench.

“The ability to play more guys keeps us fresh as we hope to have a long season. It will also help not wear our starters down as much by the end of the year,” Berkhof said.

Berkhof also said the strategy has been effective due to the team’s ability to really buy into playing team basketball. They’ve been effective at accepting their roles and being in it together.

But even more important than buying in is the impact team chemistry has had for UWRF.  Seifert said he believes it has had a significant impact on the team.

“We have a lot of good guys you want to be around on the team, and that helped us in getting close early. Everybody’s having fun and working together for one goal,” Seifert said.

The winning streak has brought a lot of attention to the men’s team that has usually been reserved for other successful winter sports on the UWRF campus. But inside the program, not much has changed.

“It’s obviously great to be on this streak record-wise, but we haven’t played our best basketball yet. The guys realize it’s cool what they’re doing, but we are only focused on the next game,” Berkhof said.

Multiple games in the WIAC have been close this season, but the Falcons have still managed to prevail. Being highly ranked has brought attention to the team, but in the end it doesn’t really mean much. UWRF players and coaches continue to be more focused on improving towards the WIAC tournament than breaking records at this stage in the season.

“We thought it would be cool to break the streak, but the focus is still winning the conference. We’re just trying to win each game and not get too high or too low. Nobody was really worried about the 16-game streak,” Buckley said.

That streak was especially tested last Wednesday night when the team looked to tie the streak at 15 in front of a packed and anxious Karges Center crowd. UWRF struggled throughout the first half, giving up second chance points in the paint and failing to knock down shots.

“Our defense was solid for the most part, despite a breakdown or two in the first half.  Offensively we played faster in the second half and increased the tempo to have better possessions in the half-court offense,” Berkhof said.

The Falcons managed to hold on to a 70-58 victory with four of the five Falcon starters scoring in double figures. This was another occasion where a balanced effort led to a WIAC victory.

The Falcons look to continue their winning streak one game at a time on Saturday, when they host UW-Oshkosh. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.