Tuesday: Last chance to dance

Edvinas Rupkus errupted for 39 points in Skidmore's 68-62 come-from-behind win over Ithaca in the Liberty League quarterfinals.
File photo by Christopher Massa, Skidmore College

After being nationally ranked earlier this season, Ohio Wesleyan, Skidmore and Wartburg started this week likely needing to win their conferences' automatic bids to reach the NCAA Tournament. All three took the first step in that direction by winning their first round playoff games on Tuesday night.

Wartburg, which won the IIAC tournament from the sixth seed last year, continued its conference playoff magic with a 76-72 win over Simpson. The Knights maintained a 10-point lead with under seven minutes to play before Simpson ripped off a 10-2 run. Conor Riordan's layup with 52 seconds left pulled the Storm within two at 74-72. After Wartburg missed a three, Simpson ran the clock down to five seconds and attempted a game-winning three that was off the mark. Cam Kickbush grabbed the rebound for Wartburg, was fouled and made both free throws to seal the win. Kickbush finished with 23 points and six rebounds for the Knights.

Central continued the IIAC's tradition of sixth-seed success as the Dutch dumped three seed Buena Vista 84-70. Central shot 53 percent from the field (27-for-51), including 13 made three-pointers, and hit 17 of its 21 free throws. Central will travel to Loras and top-seed Nebraska Wesleyan will host Wartburg in the IIAC semifinals on Thursday night.

The Liberty League expanded its playoffs to six teams this season, which gave fifth-seeded Skidmore second life. The Thoroughbreds took advantage of it by rallying past Ithaca 68-62 and into the tournament semifinals. Skidmore's Edvinas Rupkus scored nine points down the stretch and finished with 39 on 12-for-20 shooting and a perfect 13-for-13 performance from the foul line. Rochester Tech defeated Vassar 68-63 in the other quarterfinal.

Ohio Wesleyan survived a scare from Wabash in the NCAC tournament quarterfinals and toppled the Little Giants 89-86 in overtime to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Alex Eberhard's layup put Wabash in front 72-70 with under a minute to play in regulation, but Ohio Wesleyan All-American Nate Axelrod responded by sinking two free throws with four seconds left to send the game to overtime. Axelrod added five more in the extra period, giving him 23 points along with 10 assists and five rebounds for the Battling Bishops. Harrison Hallstrom posted 21 points and 18 rebounds for Wabash.

The CCIW concluded its regular season with a familiar result as Augustana claimed another conference title, this time sharing it with Illinois Wesleyan. Joe Kellen's three-point play with 31 seconds left lifted Augustana over Elmhurst 79-77, giving the Vikings a 12-4 conference record. North Central (Ill.) knocked off Illinois Wesleyan 83-74 to deny the Titans an outright claim to the CCIW crown and hosting rights for the CCIW Tournament. Augustana will host the four-team event this weekend and play Wheaton (Ill.) while Illinois Wesleyan and North Central (Ill.) meet again in the other semifinal.

Several tournaments tipped off in New England and went according to seeding. The home teams all advanced in the first rounds of the Little East, NECC and MASCAC tournaments. After a turbulent regular season, the OAC tournament had a mild beginning with the four top seeds all winning by double-digit margins. Top seeded John Carroll started its game trailing Heidelberg 20-4 but rebounded for an 86-65 victory.

On a night when chalk mostly prevailed, the biggest upset happened in the ODAC tournament where Randolph topped Virginia Wesleyan 57-54. Brian Smith scored 23 points for the WildCats who finished the regular season 7-19 and 3-13 in the conference. 

Eric McGee scored the game-winning layup with 1.4 seconds left as PAC sixth seed Geneva edged third seed St. Vincent 80-78. Mary Washington's balanced scoring prevailed over a stellar performance by Frostburg State's Edwin Cole when the Eagles defeated the Bobcats 82-78. Mary Washington had six players score double figures while Cole racked up 25 points and 17 rebounds for Frostburg State. 

SUNY Oneonta defeated Cortland 60-57 in the Battle of the Red Dragons and eliminated the three seed from the SUNYAC tournament. Cortland only attempted four free throws and was outrebounded by 19. Oswego State also advanced through the SUNYAC quarterfinals with a road win over SUNY Geneseo 95-84.

As is often the case, the first full night of women's conference tournament action largely went according to form. Only three ranked teams had playoff games and all three won by double digits. No. 7 DePauw mashed Allegheny 90-48, No. 23 Ohio Northern took care of Wilmington 76-60 and No. 24 UW-Oshkosh eliminated UW-River Falls form the WIAC tournament 64-50.

No. 16 Illinois Wesleyan outscored Elmhurst 46-25 in the middle periods on its way to the CCIW title-clinching 82-61 victory. Ashley Schneider had 12 points and seven rebounds for the Titans who will host Elmhurst in the CCIW semifinals this weekend. 

Montclair State and TCNJ will get a rubber match in the NJAC title game on Friday night. The Red Hawks ousted Rowan 65-55 and the Lions defeated Stockton 70-55 in the conference's semifinals. Katie Tobie had a career-high 21 points for Montclair State which will try for its sixth consecutive conference title.

Regis' string of NCAA Tournament appearances stopped at six as Albertus Magnus knocked the Pride out of the GNAC tournament 51-49. Olivia Bolden scored 20 points and grabbed nine boards for the Falcons who held Regis to three points in the fourth quarter. Regis won the NECC automatic bid the previous five seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection in 2012.

Lancaster Bible, which went 15-1 in the NEAC regular season, lost at home to Penn State-Abington 67-54 in the conference tournament quarterfinal. Grace Dewey tallied 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Nittany Lions. SUNY Poly will host the NEAC semifinals and final this weekend after cruising past Cazenovia 88-63.