Free throws and foul trouble doom men’s hoops

Blugolds play without all-conference guard Adam Hjelter

Story by Ellis Williams, Sports Editor

Down 56-54, junior Tyson Kalien rose up and fired what would have been the go-ahead 3-pointer with two minutes left in the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball team’s second conference game of the season.

The shot rimmed out, and the Blugolds went on to lose a closely contested matchup against UW-River Falls 65-59, Saturday night at Zorn Arena.

In his first start of the year, Kalien scored 22 points, nine of which came from behind the arc, but a lack of depth and foul trouble ended up being too much for the Blugolds to overcome.

Head coach Matt Siverling said early fouls caused problems for his team throughout the game.

“Our bigs are a big part of what we do from a defensive and offensive standpoint,” Siverling said. “Our two best bigs got into foul trouble and that really hurt us … we just have to learn how to defend without fouling.”

The Blugolds failed to escape the piercing sounds of the official’s whistles tonight as both junior Jacob Kohner and sophomore Kevin Jensen battled foul trouble.

With 6:56 remaining, Kohner picked up his fifth and final foul, but Siverling said sophomore Jared Miller filled the big mans shoes well and contributed both valuable rebounds and points coming off the bench.

The foul trouble allowed the Falcons to shoot 38 free throws and they connected on 24 of them.

River Falls sophomore Grant Erickson scored 13 of his 22 points from the charity stripe and with 1:20 left in the game, the 5-foot 9 guard buried the game clinching triple.

“That was a huge three,” Siverling said. “It was one of those you just watch as it goes in, but I think we still battled and had a chance at the end to win the basketball game.”

Following Erickson’s three, Eau Claire called a timeout and drew up a play to set up a Kalien 3-pointer. The shot just missed, Miller was there for the rebound and was fouled on a near three-point play opportunity.

The 6-foot 7 forward made one of two free throws to bring the Blugolds within three, but that would be as close as they would get as River Falls held on for the win.

Earlier this season, the Eau Claire bench was a strength, but last season’s leading score Adam Hjelter was out with an injury, and the Blugolds experimented all night trying to fill the junior leader’s void.

Senior Lewis Mau scored 13 points and said going into the game, he knew players would have to elevate their game in Hjelter’s absence.

“Other guys have to step up when guys are injured and people have got to plug in and go right into their spots,” Mau said. “We expect them to perform the same.”

The Blugolds will look to both Mau and Kalien to shoulder the scoring load with Hjelter out of the line. Despite two conference losses, Siverling said his 3-6 squad is sitting just fine.

“It’s a matter of executing a little better on the offensive end,” Siverling said. “Each and every night is going to be a battle.”

Eau Claire will suit up again at 7 p.m Wednesday inside Zorn Arena against UW-Superior.