The St. Norbert players could recite the season 3-point shooting statistics of Wheaton College guard Michael Kvam, they just couldn’t stop him in Saturday night’s Division III NCAA Tournament first-round basketball game.
The outside-in combination of Kvam and forward Nathan Haynes led a stirring second-half comeback as the Thunder defeated St. Norbert 59-58 in Wheaton.
After shooting just 35 percent in the first half, Wheaton went to halftime trailing 38-24.
“I really felt like at halftime, I told our team, this game felt like the type of game you could come back and win because they made everything the first half and we made nothing,” said Wheaton coach Mike Schauer, also noting his team’s homecourt advantage.
Schauer was on to something, and his team proved him right from the start. A Kvam 3-pointer on the fastbreak cut the St. Norbert lead to 6 with 14:27 to play.
“You could just feel the momentum changing,” Schauer said.
After a St. Norbert timeout Kvam struck again, then again a couple of minutes later, pulling the Thunder within a point.
“I think a lot of it is Tyler (Peters), our best player, penetrating, taking a lot of attention,” said Kvam, passing the credit along. “I just get open looks from him.”
“They all don’t have to be open,” Schauer interjected jokingly. “Michael’s never met one he wasn’t willing to consider.”
St. Norbert coach Gary Grzesk said the same thing, but without the same sense of humor.
“It’s not like he was wide open. I think he got one or two in transition where he was open, and then a couple of other ones were deep with a hand in his face. We’ve just got to give him credit for making a tough shot against good defense,” Grzesk said after letting guard Brandon Gries recite Kvam’s season number of 64 3-pointers in 150 attempts.
When Haynes drove the lane for a layup with 10:18 left, Wheaton had the lead back, and it never trailed again.
“They really knocked us back on our heels in the first half,” Schauer said, “but I thought we sort of returned the favor in the second half.”
The Thunder (21-6) built the lead to 7 points, but St. Norbert regained its footing and fought back, pulling within 1 when Jeremy Paprocki hit a long 3 with 8.8 seconds to go.
“I’m proud of our guys for staying in there,” Grzesk said. “They kind of weathered the storm and stayed in the game and they extended the game, made some shots, got to the line.”
After a missed Wheaton free throw St. Norbert (20-6) had one last chance, but Paul Appleton’s 3-point shot at the buzzer hit the rim and bounced harmlessly away.
“We had one of our best outside shooters with a chance to win at the end, and that’s all you can ask for,” Grzesk said.
Haynes and Brayden Teuscher finished with 16 points apiece, Teuscher scoring 10 in the first half to keep the Thunder close. Kvam finished with 12 points, Haynes also had 11 rebounds.
The Thunder advances to play top-ranked St. Thomas in the second round next weekend.
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