Second-ranked Illini overthrow Scots, suffer loss to Warhawks

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Jenette Sturges

Josh Birnbaum The Daily Illini Jenette Sturges

By Josh Birnbaum

It was a bittersweet weekend for the Illinois men’s wheelchair basketball team: they defeated one rival, the Edinboro University Fighting Scots, 60-56, on Friday, but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the top-ranked men’s team, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, 80-36, on Saturday.

The second-ranked Illini began the weekend tournament at IMPE Gym against third-ranked Edinboro Friday, leading after the first half, 33-25.

But there was a setback when Lars Spenger, who scored 13 points and contributed 15 rebounds, broke the footplate on his wheelchair and had to sit out while it was replaced.

“I think I started off pretty good,” Spenger said. “Obviously that my equipment broke threw me off. I need to learn to stay in the game when things like this happen.”

With 2:30 left on the clock, the Scots tied it up, 56-56.

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But the Illini held their ground, pulling away safely when Spenger made a basket and Steve Serio sank two free throws.

“When Edinboro got the lead towards the end of the game, we reacted well,” coach Mike Frogley said. “We got the ball in the hands of shooters and made some big shots.”

The next day, Illinois matched up against the Warhawks, who defeated them in the final four of the national tournament last year.

Whitewater started their route by taking a quick 9-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game.

The Illini never recovered, shooting only 26.3 percent for the game and committing 16 turnovers.

By the half, Illinois was already down 28 points.

“It’s possible for them to have the first half,” said Frogley during a time out, “It’s possible for us to have the second.”

But the Illini couldn’t bring it together, allowing the Warhawks to lead by 46 points before the end of the game, tallying nine baskets from behind the arc.

“We played badly this game,” team captain Serio said.

The men attribute this loss to a variety of factors.

The frigid temperature inside IMPE may have had an effect upon the players, as many mentioned being cold while playing.

Nonetheless, some players, like Matt Buchi, the leading scorer for both games this weekend, played relatively well.

“I was really proud of the guys, of how they were fighting through the entire time,” Buchi said. “That was a really big impact for me.”

Frogley remained positive after the disappointing loss, however, and encouraged his team to learn from it.

“We saw their best game today and we saw probably our worst game today,” he said. “So we’re only going to get closer.

“This game is a preview for the national championships … phenomenal opportunity to learn. Every practice from here on out is a championship practice,” Frogley said.