More than two months ago the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball team lost to UW-Platteville by nearly 30 points. On Wednesday, the Blugolds didn’t just stick with the Pioneers – they stuck it to them.
Eau Claire led for most of the night but still had to scrap for some come-from-behind prayers in the waning minutes in order to claim a 65-60 win at home. Platteville came into the game ranked fourth in the country and second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“We know we can play with anybody,” said senior Dan Beyer, who at 23 points finished the game tied with sophomore Ryan Shea for most points scored.
Junior Geoff Probst was the team’s third-highest scorer, finishing the game with nine points. Probst also finished the game with six rebounds, just short of Beyer’s team-high seven.
The Blugolds shot 56 percent from the field to the Pioneers’ 42 percent, as well as 90 percent from the free throw stripe to Platteville’s 71 percent.
Cold free throw shooting may have cost the Pioneers the game down the stretch. Platteville went 10-for-15 from the stripe during the second half, keeping Eau Claire in the game after the Pioneers had taken a three-point lead with just minutes left in the game.
The Blugolds’ defense came through big against a Platteville team which has scored an average 75 points per game this season. Eau Claire finished the contest with eight steals and 23 defensive rebounds and scored 12 points off of Pioneer turnovers.
“Our defense was really what won the game for us,” coach Terry Gibbons said.
“We’ve been waiting for this game,” Gibbons added. “Ever since we upset Platteville last year and made it to the conference final four, they were waiting to play us. Well they beat us down there; we’ve been waiting all season to come back and play them again.”
Eau Claire took an 84-80 win over Platteville last February during the conference tournament. The Pioneers responded this season with an 83-54 win over the Blugolds in December, marking one of the Blugolds’ worst losses this year. Gibbons and freshman Josh Prince, though, said the earlier 29-point loss wasn’t weighing on the players’ minds before Wednesday’s rematch.
“We know we’re a different team now,” Prince said.
The game was also the last regular-season home appearance for Beyer and senior Mark Tiefel, both of whom were honored prior to the game during senior night.
Platteville junior Curt Hanson led the Pioneers in scoring with 18 points. Senior Jeff Skemp and sophomore Nick Allen finished the game with 17 and 10 points, respectively, with the Pioneer bench tacking on 10 more points in the losing cause.
Platteville will head to UW-Stevens Point this Saturday for the Pioneers’ regular-season finale. The Pointers clinched this year’s conference title with a 78-62 win over UW-La Crosse Wednesday night, according to the school’s athletics Web site. Point also handed the Pioneers a 73-66 overtime loss earlier this season.
The Blugolds, now 8-7 in the conference and 15-9 overall, will cap off their regular season Saturday on the road against UW-Stout, which at 1-14 is sitting at the bottom of the nine-team WIAC.
“They’re a good team,” Prince said of Stout, adding Eau Claire is taking the upcoming game seriously. “Even if they’re at the bottom of the conference, they’re still a team that we need to come out and beat.”