Men’s basketball was able to ‘live in the moment and play.’

    The Blugolds produced an electrifying but bittersweet victory on Saturday


    Photo by Clara Neupert

    Ben Widdes looks for an opening in the paint. The team’s persistent intensity won them last Saturday’s game against UW-Stevens Point.

    The Blugold men’s basketball team’s 55-54 Senior Night victory against the UW-Stevens Point Pointers last Saturday evening was nothing short of electrifying.

    “We came in to win this game,” George Diekelman, a senior guard, said. Blugold determination was apparent.

    There were 13.2 seconds remaining on the clock and the Blugolds were leading by two points, 53-51. Zorn Area was thick with anticipation: Stevens Point fans were on their feet, clapping. On the other side of the court, UW-Eau Claire fans mirrored their opponents. The Blugold Athletic Band played “Victorious,” as if to sway the results of the evening.

    Then, swiftly, the game was decided. The Blugolds successfully inbounded the ball via a give-and-go to Diekelman. Diekelman strode into the paint and made a layup. With 7.8 seconds left, the Pointers could not find a basket even after the officials awarded the team extra time after a dispute about a timeout.

    When the final buzzer sounded, the team leapt onto the court and embraced, celebrating their victory.

    “It was great,” Head Coach Matt Siverling said of the win. “This is what we’ve been looking for all year.”

    But the final seconds were not the only contributor to Saturday evening’s win. Siverling said the team’s ever-present intensity shone from the start of the first half to the final buzzer.

    Chris Duff, a senior forward, and Diekelman started the momentum early-off, combining for the first 17 points of the game, most of which was scored in the paint.

    The Blugolds maintained a 22-18 lead with six minutes remaining. Adam Link, a second-year guard, exploded off the bench to sink a 3-pointer and then another basket from inside the lane. With Clay Kujawa, a first-year forward, Link boosted the Blugolds to a 34-25 advantage at the end of the first half.

    Pointers came out of halftime with more fire under their feet, narrowing the gap in the score with a 3-pointer from Matt Koerner. It wasn’t long before Link answered, tying the game at 41.

    The Pointers’ ability to shoot from the field briefly rendered them their first leads of the night. Duff drained a 3-pointer to bring the score 53-51 Eau Claire, but Stevens Point’s Drew Fredrickson on fire, hitting a trey to bring the Pointers to a one-point lead.

    Following a failed attempt at a corner shot from Duff, the Blugolds were forced to draw the Pointers to the free throw line. Stevens Point quickly entered the bonus.

    Luckily, the Blugolds were able to regain possession. Siverling called a timeout to discuss the fateful inbound that would give Diekelman an early route downtown and bring Eau Claire to a 55-54 victory.

    However, the night’s end would be bittersweet for two reasons. First, despite their effort, Eau Claire was prevented from entering the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament by a UW-La Crosse 60-55 win against UW-Whitewater.

    Second, the evening was the last time Chris Duff, Dan Becken and Diekelman would play on Zorn’s Ken Anderson court as Blugolds.

    Diekelman reflected on his time as a Blugold after the game.

    “It’s going to be the memories that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Diekelman said. “This program’s a family, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

    Siverling said he is grateful for the work ethic and character the seniors brought to the team.

    “It’s more than just their play,” Siverling said. “It’s who they are.”