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Witt leads Huskies to NCAA Division II Elite Eight

Former Morris Area star Taylor Witt is shown during a NCAA Division II Central Region victory over Metro State. On Tuesday, Witt scored 16 points in an overtime victory over Augustana that sends the Huskies to the Elite Eight for the second time in school history. Photo courtesy SportsPix.

From St. Cloud State Sports Information

MANKATO -- Morris native Taylor Witt finished strong down the stretch, scoring 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting Tuesday to help lead the St. Cloud State men's basketball team over Augustana and into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

For the second time in school history the St. Cloud State men's basketball team will be playing in the NCAA Elite Eight after beating Augustana 84-75 in overtime in the NCAA Central Regional Championship Tuesday night in the Taylor Center.

"It's pretty special. This was what you play for and I could not be happier for these kids," said head coach Kevin Schlagel, who added another victory to a record-setting 29 win season. "I have been around for a long time and these kids have worked harder than any other team I've been with."

The Huskies (28-5) were able to cut down the nets for the second time this season as they outscored the Vikings 18-9 in overtime, including the final 11 points to make it to the Elite Eight for the first time since the 1986-87 season.

St. Cloud State will next play Midwestern State Wednesday, March 24 in Springfield, Mass. with the game time to be announced.

Junior Andrew Bernstetter (St. Joseph) picked the right time to shine for St. Cloud as he scored his first points of the game with a put pack to bring the score to 75-73 in favor of the Vikings with 2:28 to go in overtime.

He then took the Husky lead back for good with a devastating three pointer just before the final minute to take a 76-75 lead.

"Bernie (Bernstetter) has been there for us all year. We knew at some point he would make a play for us," said Schlagel.

After two Husky free throws, junior Nate Phillips (Rosemount) had a break-away layup, as he was out in front of the pack on a defensive rebound to seal the victory.

St. Cloud State went on to make 8-of-10 free throws in the extra five minutes after shooting 17-for-29 in the first 40 minutes.

Senior captain Matt Schneck (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 19 points and 19 rebounds to lead all Husky players in points and all players in rebounds. For his effort in the tournament, Schneck was named the NCAA Central Regional Most Valuable Player.

The Huskies were down 75-71 with 2:44 to go in the game, but like all season long the team responded after the Bernstetter put-back.

"We still had confidence throughout overtime. There was not a moment when I thought we were going to lose," Schneck said.

Junior Josh Ortman (Buffalo) was named to the All-Regional team, after posting a 17 point night, going 7-for-11 from the field.

Sophomore Brett Putz (Forest City, Iowa) rounded out the double-digit scorers for St. Cloud State with 13 points on another stellar 4-for-6 night from the three-point line.

As a team the Huskies shot 45.6 percent from the field on a 26-for-57 night of shooting.

In a back and forth regional championship game down the stretch, the Huskies scored three points on three straight plays to take a 58-53 with 5:22 in the second half but the Vikings responded with a 6-0 run to take the lead back and once again both teams were tied at 60-60 with three minutes to go.

Just over four minutes later the score was still in a standstill at 63-63. The Vikings then drew a foul as Lee Stephens went to the free throw line and made one of two to take a one point lead. After a St. Cloud State timeout with 44.2 seconds to go, Witt nailed a clutch jumper to take the lead back with 30.8 seconds left.

The Vikings then turned the ball over on a drive to the basket early in the shot clock to give the ball back to the Huskies with 19.9 seconds to go. Schneck stepped to the line and made one of two free throws to take a two point lead.

David Foster of Augustana then took the ball the length of the court for a layup to setup overtime at 66 points a piece.

The Huskies trailed 6-0 early but went on a 7-0 run to take their first lead of the night at the 15:59 mark and it was signs of things to come in the first half, as both teams battled back and forth through three lead changes and two ties, as the Vikings took a 28-26 lead into halftime.