Boots' Late Heroics Help Titans Evade Loss To Blue Devils

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Ben Boots tied his season high with 31 points, including each of the final seven of the game, as the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh men's basketball team escaped with a 77-75 victory over UW-Stout on Saturday (Jan. 5) in Menomonie.

UW-Oshkosh (12-1, 2-0 WIAC) trailed, 69-60, with 6:43 remaining and faced a 75-70 deficit with 1:57 to play before the Titans rallied behind Boots' heroics.

Boots started the comeback by sinking three free throws after being fouled while attempting a 3-pointer at the top the key with 90 seconds left. UW-Stout's John Keefe, who entered the game as the WIAC's leading scorer, missed a 3-pointer that was corralled by UW-Oshkosh's Brett Wittchow on the ensuing possession.

After timeouts by both teams, Wittchow found Boots for a 3-pointer that provided the Titans with a 76-75 lead with 30 seconds to play. Keefe then missed a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left, and Boots split two free throws to create the eventual final score with 17 seconds remaining.

Keefe missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds left. However, UW-Oshkosh committed a turnover after securing the rebound of Keefe's miss with just under two seconds to go. Following a Blue Devil timeout, UW-Stout's Jon Ciriacks stepped out of bounds as the Blue Devils squandered their last chance to upset the Titans.

Boots concluded the contest shooting 10 of 17 from the field, 6-for-12 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 at the free throw line as the senior preseason All-American moved into ninth on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,418 career points.

UW-Oshkosh, ranked sixth in the NCAA Division III, increased its winning streak to 11 games. The Titans, who advanced to the national championship game last season, had not won 11 contests in a row since the 1996-97 season. The program record is 12 consecutive victories established in 1967-68.

The Titans, who picked up their fourth consecutive win over UW-Stout and eighth in the past nine meetings, took their first lead on Saturday at the 18:13 mark of the second half.

UW-Oshkosh concluded the game shooting 45 percent (27-60) from the field, 29 percent (9-31) from beyond the 3-point arc and 77.8 percent (14-18) at the free throw line. The Titans owned advantages of 41-24 in rebounds, 14-3 in offensive rebounds, 14-12 in assists and 3-2 in blocks.

The Titans, who have out-rebounded each of their last 15 opponents dating back to last season, went into the game ranked fifth nationally in assists-to-turnover ratio (1.65), sixth in average scoring margin (+21.7) and seventh in rebounding margin (+11.5) while also pacing the WIAC in scoring (87.4), field goal percentage defense (.403) and per-game assists (17.8), made 3-pointers (10.6) and blocks (4.5).

Connor Duax had a season-high 15 points and eight rebounds for the Titans, who also received 12 points and eight boards from Jack Flynn. UW-Oshkosh's Adam Fravert led all players with 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

UW-Stout (6-7, 0-2 WIAC) lost despite shooting a season-best 51.7 percent (31-60) from the floor. The Blue Devils connected on 10 of 24 (.417) 3-point attempts but went just 3-for-7 (.429) at the free throw line, marking their worst performance at the foul line since going 3-for-8 (.375) against UW-Whitewater on Feb. 4, 2017.

Keefe matched his WIAC-leading scoring average by tallying a team-best 22 points to go along with four assists and two steals. He shot just 9 of 23 from the floor, 3-for-12 from 3-point range and 1-for-3 at the free throw line.

Ciriacks contributed 13 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Blue Devils while Zach Dahl and Kyle Williams chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Dahl hit a 3-pointer less than one minute into the game, and UW-Stout did not trail for the remainder of the first half. The Blue Devils stretched their lead to 16-7 following a 3-pointer by Keefe with 15:54 left in the opening period and equaled their largest advantage of the game at 20-11 after a jumper by Ciriacks with 14:17 to go before intermission and again at 27-18 on a 3-pointer from Braden Walbeck at the 10:48 mark.

UW-Oshkosh responded with eight unanswered points to pull even at 41, but Dahl drilled a 3-pointer that gave UW-Stout a 44-41 halftime lead.

The Titans scored the first five points of the second half, claiming their first lead at 46-44 on a layup from Duax with 18:13 to play. A Walbeck 3-pointer later gave the Blue Devils a 56-53 advantage and a lead they would not relinquish until the final 30 seconds.

UW-Stout once again matched its largest lead of nine points at 69-60 following a layup by D'Marco Patrick with 6:43 remaining. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Boots pulled UW-Oshkosh within 69-66 with 4:51 to go, but Keefe's layup at the 1:57 mark upped the Blue Devil lead to 75-70.

UW-Oshkosh plays at 12th-ranked UW-Stevens Point on Wednesday (Jan. 9).