OSHKOSH, Wis. — As the ball made its way to the rim, it looked as though Ben Meinholz was about to put an exclamation point on what was a brilliant game for him.
The junior forward had guided his UW-La Crosse men’s basketball team to the brink of an upset at No. 19 Oshkosh in the first round of the WIAC Tournament, only to see a second-half lead slip away to a one-possession deficit. Still, Meinholz put up a potential winning 3-pointer with about a second to go, and gave the Eagles a chance to extend their season.
The ball was halfway down before rattling out, and the Titans held on for a 76-74 win.
Had Meinholz’s shot fallen, it would’ve been his second buzzer-beater of the night, as he hit one before the halftime horn. He finished with a game-high 24 points, but the Eagles (13-13) couldn’t overcome Oshkosh’s 10 3-pointers and 20-for-24 night from the free-throw line.
“After struggling by his standards in our home game against Eau Claire, Ben led us to a 2-0 record the last week and then did what he did tonight,” UW-L interim coach Kent Dernbach said. “He played his best basketball in the last three games for us, and it’s no coincidence that we went 2-0 and were in the game tonight with him playing that way.”
Meinholz and the Eagles stormed out of the gates in the second half after trailing by three at halftime. They started the second half on a 10-4 run that propelled them to their first lead. La Crosse would eventually lead by 14 with 10 minutes, 18 seconds left to play, but then the Titans answered back.
A 10-0 run by Oshkosh (20-6) got it down to a four-point game, and it stayed within six until the final minutes. Oshkosh tied the game at the 2:05 mark only to have a Meinholz jumper give UW-L the back back. Then at the 1:26 mark a pair of free throws tied it again. In the closing seconds, Oshkosh guard Ben Boots drove the lane and found 6-foot-8, 240-pound center Jack Flynn with a dump-off pass, which Flynn converted to the winning layup.
“I thought we were able to fight a little better and had better ball pressure, but we didn’t start well or finish well against (Flynn),” Dernbach said. “When we went on our run, we made him work on the defensive end.”
Flynn posted his third 20-point game against La Crosse this season, finishing with 22 points and nine rebounds. Boots had 15 points, powered by four 3-pointers, while Adam Fravert had 16 points on the strength of three 3s for the Titans.
Junior guard Taulvish McCray had 14 points for La Crosse, while Brendon Manning had 12.
“We were there and we gave ourselves chances, but against really good teams in the WIAC tournament, you have to close out possessions,” Dernbach said. “We didn’t do that enough tonight.”