DUBUQUE, Iowa — Senior Justin VanWambeke capped a heroic 36-point performance with the game-winning basket at the buzzer to lift host Loras College to an 88–86 non-conference victory over the University of Wisconsin–Platteville men's basketball team Saturday afternoon.
VanWambeke committed a pair of turnovers in the final 1:24, but made up for his potentially costly giveaways when he drove the length of the court with 8.2 seconds left and buried a 12-foot floater on the final play of the game and in the process set a new career-high.
Coach Jeff Gard's Pioneers were unable to take advantage of VanWambeke's two late miscues, as UW–Platteville committed four turnovers of its own in the final 69 seconds, the final turnover coming with nine seconds left when the Pioneers botched an inbound play.
Ryan DiCanio scored the Duhawks' first nine points as Loras jumped out to a 16–6 lead to start the game and dominated throughout the first half. DiCanio finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Desmond George added 14 points for the Duhawks, who improved to 5–4 with the win.
Loras pushed the lead to as many as 14 points at 41–27 on a VanWambeke with 3:44 left in the half and ultimately led 47–36 at the half.
The Pioneers (6–3) chipped away at the lead, scoring the first seven points of the second half to pull within 47–43 on a 3-pointer by Robert Duax (Dubuque/Hempstead) with 18:08 left in the game.
Back-to-back layups by senior forward Cory Vaassen (Dickeyville/Cuba City) and freshman guard Harold Fay (Hennepin, Ill.) pulled UW–Platteville within a basket at 55–53, then back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore guard Colin Kramper (Downer's Grove, Ill.) and junior forward Dan Lowe (Byron, Ill.) gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game at 58–57 with 12:27 remaining.
The lead changed hands four times over the next seven minutes, with UW–Platteville regaining a brief one-point advantage at 77–76 with 5:22 to play on a layup by Duax and a jumper by sophomore guard Colin Connelly (Guttenburg, Iowa). But Loras quickly regained the upper hand 15 seconds later on a pair of free throws by VanWambeke.
The Duhawks held the lead until junior guard Matt Oestreich (Marshfield) made a go-ahead layup with 1:59 left to give the Pioneers a slim 84–83 lead. Oestreich added a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, giving the Pioneers their largest lead of the game with 1:32 remaining.
The team's combined for four turnovers in the next minute of play, before DiCanio's layup pulled Loras within one at 86–85 with 27 seconds left.
Seven seconds later, after another Pioneer turnover, Jake Toman split a pair of free throws to tie the game.
The Pioneers attempted to hold for one final shot, but turned the ball over yet again with nine seconds left setting up VanWambeke's game-winner. UW–Platteville committed just 13 turnovers in the game, but four in the final 1:27.
Junior guard Trey Sigel (Rock Island, Ill.) scored a team-high 19 points to lead the Pioneers in defeat. Oestreich finished with 16 points, while Duax added 14 points and three assists, and Vaassen posted 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
UW–Platteville, now 6–3, will return to action Thursday, Dec. 29 against Northwestern (Minn.) (6–3) at Green Bay's Phoenix Sports Center. The Pioneers will then face either Finlandia (Mich.) (2–5) or host St. Norbert (5–1) on Friday, Dec. 30 in the championship or consolation game of the Nicolet National Bank Holiday Tournament in Green Bay.
By Jason Nihles, UW–Platteville Athletics