Second-half surge gives St. Olaf 2016 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoff title

Second-half surge gives St. Olaf 2016 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoff title

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Olaf College men's basketball team used a game-changing second-half run, 55 percent shooting and 20 points from Ben Figini to upset top-seeded and No. 7-ranked St. Thomas in Sunday's 2016 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Men's Basketball Playoff championship game on the Tommies' home court in St. Paul, Minn.

The Oles (18-9) trailed by as many as nine in the first half as St. Thomas (24-3) ran out to a 22-13 lead, but they clawed back to make it a four-point game at the half, and then used a stunning 14-1 run over a three-minute span to surge ahead and they never looked back en route to their second MIAC Playoff title in three years. St. Olaf also defeated UST on the road in the 2014 championship game.

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St. Thomas' Grant Shaeffer matched Figini with 20 points, as the Tommies placed three players in double figures and appeared ready to run away with the game several times in the first half, but UST went cold in the second half, making just 1-of-12 from behind the arc and 35.3 percent of its field goals after halftime. The Oles were a stark contrast in the final 20 minutes, shooting 55 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three and sealed the win by going 16-for-20 from the line after halftime.

A back-and-forth first half ended with a St. Olaf three in the final seconds to cut St. Thomas' lead to four, 36-32. The Oles ran out to a quick leads of 4-0 and 9-5, but the Tommies answered with their first big run. UST scored the next nine, started by a Taylor Montero three, to surge ahead 14-9. Back-to-back threes by Jimmy Remke stretched it to 22-13, but the Oles clawed back to cut it to one at 26-25 on an Evan O'Dorisio jumper. St. Thomas used a 6-0 run late in the half to push the lead to seven, but Austin Majeskie's three with seven seconds before the halftime buzzer made it a four-point game at intermission.

   
Ben Figini goes up for two of his 20 points in 
Sunday's MIAC Playoff championship game. 
(Photo by Matt Higgins, MIAC) 

The two stayed close throughout the first seven minutes of the second half before St. Olaf went on its decisive run. Over a three-minute stretch, the Oles went on a 14-1 run to turn a five-point deficit into an eighth-point lead. Figini scored inside, Majeskie made a pair of free throws and Justin Pahl got a steal and a pull-up jumper in transition to give the Oles their first lead of the half. Robert Tobroxen followed with a three, Figini scored inside again and Riley Aeikens buried a deep three to push the lead to 55-47 with 10 minutes to play.

A Ryan Saarela three-point play got the Tommies back within five, and the teams traded baskets to keep it there heading into the home stretch, but St. Olaf started going to work from the free throw line, where it went 9-for-11 in the final four minutes to hold off any St. Thomas hopes of a comeback, and the St. Olaf fans celebrated a Playoff title for the second time in three years.

Figini's 20-point performance came on 10-of-13 shooting from the floor and included six rebounds, and it came on the heels of his 27-point masterpiece in the semifinals. Aeikens added 13 points, six rebounds and five assists, Pahl had 12 points and five assists, Majeskie stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, six blocked shots, five rebounds and three assists and O'Dorisio added nine points. St. Olaf shot 54.2 percent from the floor, 80 percent from the line, held a 36-29 edge on the glass and had 17 assists on 26 field goals.

   
Cortez Tillman drives to the hoop for St. Thomas.
(Photo by Matt Higgins, MIAC) 

Shaeffer was 8-for-16 from the floor en route to his 20 points, and added six boards and four assists to lead UST. Montero had 15 points and two steals, Cortez Tillman had 11 points and three steals and Saarela finished with seven points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. St. Thomas shot 42.9 percent from the floor, but was just 26.3 percent from three and was out-scored 16-7 at the line. The Tommies turned it over just eight times, as they weren't able to add the Playoff title to their 11th-straight MIAC regular-season championship.

The championship-game win gave the Oles the tournament championship plaque, as well as the MIAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, as the team will head to the "Big Dance" for the third-straight season. The team received the automatic bid in 2014 and reached the Sweet 16 in 2015 after receiving an at-large bid. The seventh-ranked Tommies and their 24 wins are also optimistic about their NCAA chances, and both will officially learn their fate when the NCAA announces the national tournament field on Feb. 29 at 11:30 a.m. with a live online selection show. 

Fans can visit the tournament home page to re-live the 2016 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs. The site contains scores, stats, recaps, photo galleries, information on all six teams in the field, an interactive bracket and more. Fans can also share their Playoff experiences on social media through the MIAC's FacebookInstagram or Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #MIACMBB.


2016 MIAC MEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS

Quarterfinals: Wednesday, Feb. 24 - 7 p.m.
No. 3 Saint John's 99, No. 6 Augsburg 86 | Box Score | Recap |
No. 5 Bethel 67, No. 4 Concordia 62 | Box Score | Recap |

Semifinals: Friday, Feb. 26 - 7 p.m.
No. 1 St. Thomas 63, No. 5 Bethel 46 | Box Score | Recap |
No. 2 St. Olaf 91, No. 3 Saint John's 80 | Box Score | Recap | Photos |

Championship: Sunday, Feb. 28  - 2 p.m.
No. 2 St. Olaf 72, No. 1 St. Thomas 66 | Box Score | Photos |


| 2016 MIAC Men's Basketball Playoffs | Interactive Bracket