PLATTEVILLE — The UW–Platteville men's basketball team gave visiting fourth-ranked UW–River Falls all it could handle in Saturday night's Senior Night season finale.
Senior forward Cory Vaassen (Dickeyville/Cuba City) was recognized at midcourt prior to the game alongside family and former high school head coach in attendance as well as teammates parents. Vaassen, who played in 99 games and started 70 of them for the Pioneers, finished his final game with 10 points and rebounds.
The host Pioneers dominated the first half and led throughout the first 18 minutes of the second half, but the WIAC-champion Falcons made just enough plays in the final 106 seconds to pull out a four-point win. UW–River Falls closed the game on an 8–2 run to escape with a 65–61 victory.
The Falcons improved to 22–3 overall and 12–2 in league play and will now await the lowest remaining seed in the second round of the WIAC, that will be played Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, coach Jeff Gard's Pioneers finished the season 8–17 overall and 1–13 in the WIAC. The Pioneers, who began the year 6–2 before injuries took a toll, lost eight games this season by six points or less, including Saturday night's heartbreaker.
UW–Platteville jumped out to a 7–3 lead, before the visiting Falcons evened the score at 13 apiece midway through the first quarter.
The Pioneers used a 9–1 run, highlighted by a driving baseline one-hand dunk by junior point guard Matt Oestreich (Marshfield) and seven straight points from Vaassen, to build a 28–19 lead with 5:09 left in the first half. The home team pushed the lead to 12 on a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Robert Duax (Dubuque/Hempstead) and went into the half up 38–26.
The Pioneers maintained its double-digit lead throughout much of the second half. UW–Platteville pushed the lead to 13 early in the half, but Devin Buckley and Matt Timlin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 44–37 with 16:27 left to play.
The Falcons made four straight free throws, then Alex Herink and Clay Seifert converted back-to-back layups to trim the lead to four at 52–48. UWRF tied the game at 57–57 on a Grant Erickson 3-pointer with four minutes to play, but Nathan Cokenour (O'Fallon, Ill.) scored on the ensuing possession as the Pioneers regained a two-point lead.
Herink retied the game with a pair of free throws and after a UW–Platteville miss, Seifert's putback with 1:46 left gave the Falcons their first lead of the second half at 61–59. The Pioneers missed a driving layup on their next possession and Herink converted a tough driving layup with the shot clock winding down to give the visitors a 63–59 advantage with 1:04 left.
Duax drew a foul and converted a pair from the charity strip to make it a two-point game with 50 seconds left, and the Pioneer defense held on the ensuing possession, but a Seifert steal with 6.1 seconds left took away UW–Platteville's final chance.
Herink made a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds left to close out the win. Herink finished with a game-high 18 points on 5 of 13 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Brennan Witt finished with 11 points off the bench for the winners, and Seifert and Buckley added seven points each.
Duax scored a team-high 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists to lead the Pioneers. Oestreich added nine points and two assists. Gerds chipped in seven points, three steals and two rebounds. Sigel had six points and three rebounds.
By Jason Nihles, UW–Platteville Athletics