|Jacob Johnston scored a team-high 19 in the sectional final win over Hanover.
Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Erik Buchinger
Augustana advanced to the Final Four for the second time in three years, and this year's Vikings are much different than the 2014-15 version.
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Augustana has a younger team with much less experience than the last Final Four team.
"I think we're very different in really every respect," Augustana head coach Grey Giovanine said. "The team two years ago had a lot of juniors and seniors and was much more experienced, and we do not have that this year. As far as similarities, these teams typically play good defense and have a solid balance on offense."
Augustana needed to replace its entire starting five, and Jacob Johnston is the lone senior in the rotation. He led the Vikings with 19 points in their victory over Hanover.
"In the biggest game of the year to move on to the Final Four, he led us in scoring," Giovanine said. "We couldn't be happier. He paid his dues, he's been loyal, and he was ready when that opportunity came. I'm a huge fan of his."
In addition to being the lone senior, Johnston is one of just two upperclassmen that receive regular minutes in the rotation. Giovanine said veteran leadership is essential when playing this time of the year.
"He's it," Giovanine said. "We just got the one senior in the rotation, and I do believe that your senior has to be good for your team to be good in big moments, and he sure rose to the occasion in the last game."
Giovanine said he appreciates what Johnston has been able to do since he arrived on campus.
"Jacob has just been the ultimate teammate," Giovanine said. "He was behind an All-American, he was a scout squad guy, junior varsity player and a deep sub. Now he's an all-conference guy."
Johnston was a sophomore during the team's last Final Four appearance and played one minute in the national semifinals and did not appear in the title game loss.
|Johnston is one of Augustana's five double-figure scorers and the Vikings' leading rebounder.
Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
"I remember how exciting that experience was," Johnston said. "It felt really cool being in a big gym with media, videos and stuff. It's something you don't see at the Division III level. Seeing that was a great experience."
Giovanine said being in Salem a second time helps because he knows what to expect. One of the changes from two years ago is the team will take two days to get to Salem via bus instead of the one-day trip the Vikings took last time.
In addition to travel, Giovanine said it helps him to let the younger players know what they can expect from the experience.
"I've been able to help this team in terms of expectations a little bit more than the first time we were there in terms of banquets, media coverage and some of those things," Giovanine said. "I don't know if there's anything significant to be prepared for. I've spent 18 years coaching college basketball, so it's not that big of a deal, and it's not new to me."
Johnston will return to Salem, and he could not be more excited to finish out his career in the Final Four.
"It feels great, and there's no better way to end my career," Johnston said. "You don't want to go out on a loss, but the way tournament is set up, you almost have to, but we're making the most of it. Being able to play this late into March is great."
Johnston said it is a different feeling playing in the NCAA tournament as a senior because a loss ends his career.
"It's kind of sad to think my college basketball career is almost over, but at the same time, I'm really excited and I think we've got a good chance to win a game or two," Johnston said. "I'm thrilled for opportunity to keep playing a couple more games."
Despite being one of the few veterans on the team, Johnston said he can be a leader when he has to be, but different players have stepped up to lead the team.
"I try to be a good leader," Johnston said. "All season we had a pretty young team, so I try to lead a little bit since I've been here so long. But it's not all on me to lead because we do have good young leaders. I just try to show up every day and work and lead by example to lead the team when I need to."
Giovanine said the resilience of his team is why Augustana has reached this far.
"We came into the year with no returning starters and a lot of newcomers," Giovanine said. "They've been able to really grow together. They've taken some bumps along the way, but they have a good attitude and are coachable. The veterans have been good helping newcomers, and we've grown as a team throughout the year."
Giovanine said he thinks his team looks confident going into Friday night's national semifinal game against Williams.
"I like the way our team has played with how they've developed over the last week," Giovanine said. "I think the team's confidence is a lot more important than mine, but they appear confident right now."
Johnston said there is a lack of pressure going into the Final Four because the expectations were low coming into the season.
"As a team, we've been playing with less pressure because nobody expected us to get this far anyway," Johnston said. "We didn't have any expectations to win, so we're going to have fun and be confident. Our potential is pretty high so if we play the way we need to play, we have a good chance to win."