Augustana men's hoops finishes regular season as NSIC South Division Co-Champs

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Picked to finish 7th in the NSIC preseason poll, the Augustana men's basketball team is the 2018-19 South Division co-champions. Augustana, who splits the league title with Minnesota State, finishes the regular season with a 77-73 win over Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.

The Vikings improve to 18-10 (14-8 NSIC) and SMSU drops to 15-13 (10-12 NSIC). Augustana, who closes the conference slate with five straight wins, claims their third league title in five years.

Augustana, who earns the two-seed in the south, will take on Minnesota Crookston (seven-seed, north) on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sioux Falls Arena. The game is part of men's/women's doubleheader, and tickets will go on sale on Sunday (Feb. 24) at 10 a.m. on GoAugie.com/Tickets.

The Viking women, who will take on Northern State, will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. If either program advances out of the first round, all remaining games will be played at the Sanford Pentagon. For more information on the 2019 NSIC/Sanford Health basketball tournament, please visit here.

Augustana head coach Tom Billeter was pleased with the effort from the program and thankful that luck was in their favor tonight.

"All we can do is what we can control. We just needed to focus on coming out here and getting a win tonight, and hope that we got lucky. We've worked hard, but are fortunate to be in this position."

Saturday showdown came down to final two minutes. Tied at 67-67 with 2:24 to play, A.J. Plitzuweit drove the rack and scored with his left hand. SMSU answered with 1-of-2 free throws, but the final minute of regulation belonged to Matt Cartwright.

Already with a pair of buzzer-beaters this season, the Sophomore stepped up again and knocked down back-to-back 28-foot triples to nearly put the game on ice. SMSU cut the lead to two, but Plitzuweit drained two free throws to seal the win.

The Vikings were led by another all-in-effort, this time with five student-athletes hitting double-figures. A.J. Plitzuweit cooked up 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Cartwright came alive for 15 points, and Dylan LeBrun (11 points), Trevor Hanson (10 points, 7 rebounds), and Michael Schaefer (10 points) all registered strong games as well. Tyler Riemersma worked his way to 8 points and had a game-high 12 rebounds.

Overall, Augustana shot 41 percent (26-of-64), including 44 percent in the second half. Easily the game's biggest difference was Vikings ability to control the glass, where they finished +22 (45-23). The Vikings pulled down 20 offensive rebounds, which helped them outscore SMSU 22-4 in second-chance points.

Both teams traded empty possessions to start the game, but the Mustangs made the game's first run. Ryan Bruggeman helped the visitors to a 4-of-4 start and early 10-0 lead. Bruggeman finished with a game-high 28 points.

The Vikings got on the board as Dylan LeBrun knocked down a triple, which marked back-to-back nights he started the scoring from downtown. From there, the Vikings capped off a 13-3 run as Matt Cartwright found A.J. Plitzuweit for a right-wing triple.

Trailing 28-26, the Vikings took their first lead of the day as Plitzuweit stayed hot from downtown. The freshman started 3-of-4 from the field and registered eight early points.

By the first intermission, the visiting Mustangs maintained a 35-31 lead. Although the Vikings controlled the glass with a 22-12 advantage, 10 turnovers hurt the home team.

Augustana shot 12-of-32 (38 percent) in the first half and was led by 8 points and 2 assists from Plitzuweit. SMSU shot 52 percent in the first half and were led by Bruggeman with 14 points.

A second-half team all season, long, the Vikings started the second half on a 6-2 run, including a jumper from Cartwright.

With 15:44 to play, Schaefer knocked down a jumper to tie the game at 41-41. However, the Mustangs heated up, knocking down three straight triples to build the lead-up.

However, the Vikings didn't quit. LeBrun flew into the paint and scored on a put-back off glass, and following a pair of free throws from Plitzuweit, it was a 67-56 SMSU lead.

Now with 3:10 to play and the crowd on their feet, the Vikings got the stop they needed. Schaefer got a steal and drew a foul, tying the game at 67-67. From there, Plitzuweit and Cartwright lifted the Vikings to the division co-title.