SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- With a rivalry dating back to 1922, Augustana and the University of Sioux Falls have added another lively chapter to their hardwood history. In a back and forth battle at the Stewart Center on Saturday - including 12 lead changes and countless runs - USF held off Augustana for a 77-73 win.
The Vikings, who lost for the first time since Dec. 1, 2018, snap a seven-game win streak. Augustana is now 10-4 (6-2 NSIC South) on the year, while USF moves to 10-4 (5-3) on the year.
Trailing by as many as seven in the second half, Matt Cartwright nearly resurrected the Vikings once again. He knocked down shot after shot and finished the game with 25 points and 3 rebounds. Following a basket from USF, the Vikings found themselves trailing 73-68 with 25.2 seconds left in the game. Dylan LeBrun drained a right-wing three to make it 73-71, but that was as close the Vikings could get. USF made four free throws down the stretch to put the game on ice.
Augustana head coach Tom Billeter was pleased with how his program responded but knows there always room for improvement. "I thought we played aggressively tonight, but give them credit - we have to do a better job playing through contact," Billeter said. "The difference tonight was our inability to execute down the stretch. You can't do that, and especially not on the road."
The Vikings shot 11-32 in the second half and finished the game at 38% overall. For just the third time all season, the Vikings lost the battle of the board, finishing -6. A bright spot for the Vikings was freshman Dylan LeBrun, who finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Although the Cougars scored the first basket of the game, the Vikings answered with an impressive 7-0 run. Michael Schaefer started the scoring with a straight-away three and A.J. Plitzuweit got inside for a runner off the glass. Both Plitzuweit and Schaefer finished with nine points on the night.
Following a LeBrun triple, the Vikings hit 5 of 8 shots to open the game and opened up a 13-6 lead. Although USF answered with an 11-2 run to take the lead, the Vikings went back to their offense. Schaefer posted up and hit a baby hook inside, and then on the next possession, LeBrun scored off the glass. At the 8:00 mark of the first half, the Vikings still trailed 24-21.
Over the course of the Vikings seven-game win streak, Cartwright has continuously heated up when needed - and Saturday was no different. With the Vikings trailing late in the half, the sophomore knocked down three straight triples to give Augustana the 30-29 lead. Both teams traded scores in the final minutes, and by the break, the Vikings trailed 42-40. Cartwright, who was 4-6 from downtown, led the Vikings with 14 points. Augustana shot 48% (12-25) in the opening half. The first half featured six lead changes.
Looking for a second-half comeback for the third straight game, Schaefer hit a jumper to start the Augustana scoring. Needing a spark, the Vikings went back to their hot hand. Cartwright hit a pull-up jumper off the glass, and with 14:02 left in the game, the Vikings trailed 49-47.
Moments later, the Vikings had their biggest possession of the night. They swung it around the arc and found Trevor Hanson who buried a three and gave the Vikings their first lead of the second half, 50-49. By the 8:01 media timeout, the rivals were tied up at 59-59.
Trevon Evans guided the Cougars on a 10-3 run to gain control late in the second half. The Vikings were able to slow down the Cougars with a pair of stops on the defensive end, but they we unable to find the bottom of the net on offense. Augustana cut the lead to two points with 25 seconds left, but couldn't find the final stop they needed.
Drew Guebert, who is top-five in the NSIC in scoring, was held in check by the Vikings defense. The senior had just 16 points on 14 shots and fouled out with three minutes to play. Evans finished the game with a game-high 33 points and 5 turnovers.
Saturday's game completed a three-game road trip for the Vikings, their longest of the year.
Augustana will now stay in Sioux Falls but return to the Sioux Falls Arena next weekend for a pair of NSIC matchups. The Vikings will take on Upper Iowa on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and wrap up the weekend with Upper Iowa at 5:30 on Saturday.