UW-Eau Claire and St. Scholastica play a blood-pressure raising brand of basketball when they meet.
Last year, the Blugolds needed a buzzer beater from George Diekelman to best their Minnesota foes. On Saturday, they weren’t so lucky.
Eau Claire guard Ben Widdes missed a 3-point shot from the top of the key with less than a second remaining as the Blugolds fell to the Saints, 79-77, at Zorn Arena.
“It came down to that one last stop at the end,” Blugolds guard Cole Rabedeaux said. “It looked close. I thought it was going to go in for a second.”
Eau Claire drew up a final play during a timeout with seven seconds remaining but Scholastica did a good job clogging the paint and forcing UWEC to the outside. Eau Claire cycled the ball through three players and by the time it got to Widdes, he didn’t have much choice but to attempt a contested shot.
“We had some other things that we were looking for,” Eau Claire coach Matt Siverling said. “Scholastica did a good job taking away our first option, taking away our second option. ... I would have liked to get a better shot than that.”
Rabedeaux led the Blugolds with 15 points, while Widdes had 14 and Spencer Page 13 off of the bench.
St. Scholastica flirted with taking control in the first half, but every time the Saints went on a run Eau Claire responded. The Saints led by nine on three occasions in the first but were never able to push their lead into double digits. Eau Claire hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to cut the deficit to 45-41 St. Scholastica at half.
The teams entered the final two minutes of a closely contested second half tied at 75. The Saints claimed a four-point lead with baskets from Quinn Fischer and Brandon Newman, who notched 17 of his 24 points in the final 20 minutes.
“We just didn’t have an answer for No. 4 (Newman) to be honest with you,” Siverling said. “We tried multiple guys on him. That guy could play linebacker at a Division III school, maybe a Division II school.”
Eau Claire had two opportunities to tie the game after Widdes made it 79-77, with the first coming off a timeout with 26 seconds remaining. Rabedeaux missed a fade away, but Steve Christiansen grabbed the offensive board to set up the final shot opportunity.
“I told our guys to keep their heads up,” Siverling said. “This was a good basketball team. … Sometimes the basketball gods look down on you and they say, ‘Not today.’”
Eau Claire has a quick turnaround, as the Blugolds will travel to Ashland to face Northland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.