MENOMONIE – UW-Stout men’s basketball faced the best in the WIAC and didn’t blink. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, a handful of mistakes still did them in.
Stout didn’t trail until a minute and change into the second half and were up by nine with under seven minutes left in the game but couldn’t complete a stunning upset of No. 6 UW-Oshkosh Saturday afternoon at Johnson Fieldhouse.
A late seven points from Titans guard Ben Boots on a 3-pointer and four free throws sealed a 77-75 Oshkosh victory.
“If anything, at least the league will know we’re not their doormat anymore,” Stout coach Jim Lake said.
While Oshkosh’s comeback occurred over a handful of minutes, the game came down to a couple plays in the final two. Stout led by five with 1:57 left, but Boots kicked off a late Titans surge when he was fouled from beyond the arc and hit all three free throws with a minute and a half on the clock.
Stout’s John Keefe missed a 3-point attempt on the ensuing possession, and, despite a long defensive stand for the Blue Devils, Boots was able to find space in the corner off an inbounds play with four seconds on the shot clock and hit a 3 to give Oshkosh a 76-75 lead with 30 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils seemed to have an answer when Zach Dahl found Keefe cutting and forced Oshkosh into a foul with 19 seconds remaining. But Keefe, who led the team with 22 points, missed both free throws.
“It just sucked,” Keefe said. “I’ve got to get to the gym and practice some more.”
Stout fouled and the door was still open after Boots made one of two, but the Blue Devils missed a shot and were caught out of bounds on an inbound to seal it.
“We’re right there,” Lake said. “We had a chance to win. That’s the expectation. … Our guys are starting to believe in the things we’re trying to do.”
Stout opened the game hot from deep, netting four of its first six baskets from 3-point range. That hot shooting earned the Devils an early 16-7 lead.
“Our shots were hitting so we just kept going to it,” Keefe said.
Stout’s lead hovered between four and nine until Oshkosh mounted an 8-0 run in the final minutes of the first frame to tie it at 41 with 1:48 left. A Dahl 3-pointer with 1:21 on the clock gave the Blue Devils’ a 44-41 halftime lead.
The Titans appeared to reset during the break, opening the second on a 10-3 run to take a 51-47 lead. Just when it appeared Oshkosh’s talent was inevitably winning out, Stout fired back with a 10-2 run of its own to regain the lead.
Every time the Titans would get close, Stout would have an answer. That was, until the end. Oshkosh outscored Stout 17-6 in the final six minutes, with Boots scoring 13 of his game-high 31 during that span.
The Blue Devils have another shot at one of the league’s best on Wednesday when they travel to No. 10 UW-Whitewater.
“Everyone wrote us off in this game,” Keefe said. “No one expected us to be close, especially against such a great team. We kind of wanted to prove we can hang with anyone in the WIAC. To be ranked last, we kind of have a chip on our shoulder. We’re not last.”
UW-Oshkosh 77, UW-Stout 75
Oshkosh (12-1, 2-0): Ben Boots 31, Connor Duax 15, Jack Flynn 12, Adam Fravert 5, Brett Wittchow 4, Jake Zeitler 3, David Vlotho 3, Eric Peterson 2, Brian Wilman 2.
Stout (6-7, 0-2): John Keefe 22, Jon Ciriacks 13, Zach Dahl 11, Garret Parks 4, D’Marcco Patrick 2, Kyle Williams 10, Braden Walbeck 8, Brandon Gilbertson 2, Luke Geiger 2, Brady Booth 1.
3-pointers: Oshkosh 9 (Boots 6, Fravert, Zeitler, Vlotho); Stout 10 (Keefe 3, Dahl 3, Ciriacks 2, Walbeck 2).
Halftime score: Stout 44-41.