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The Lakeland College men's basketball team is right where it wanted to be at the beginning of the season, at home Saturday afternoon for the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament championship game against Aurora (Ill.) University at 2 p.m. at Woltzen Gymnasium.
The No. 1 seed Muskies (22-5 overall) will square off against second-seeded Aurora (21-6 overall) with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament on the line for the winner. Lakeland is looking to make its second appearance ever in the Division III tourney, and its first since 2003-04, when the Muskies made it as automatic qualifiers after winning the Lake Michigan Conference Tournament.
Lakeland and Aurora are meeting for the second time this season, and if the first game is any indicator the game should be a classic. The Muskies defeated the Spartans 99-94 in overtime at home on Feb. 2, erasing a ten-point deficit in the final 1:27 of regulation and tying the game on two free throws by James Oshkeshequoam (Jr.-Keshena, Wis.) with three seconds left.
Oshkeshequoam scored a career-high 29 points and Justin Ward (Jr.-Wisconsin Dells, Wis.) added 20 points and 22 rebounds in a contest in which the lead changed hand a total of 20 times. The result proved to be the tiebreaker in the NAC North Division champion Muskies winning the NAC tourney top seed over Aurora, which won the NAC South Division title.
Lakeland plowed through No. 8 seed Marian University 95-67 in its quarterfinal game and survived a 69-68 win over rival and fourth-seeded Concordia University Wisconsin in the semifinals on Tuesday. Brandon Hagenow (Fr.-Sussex, Wis.) made two free throws with seven seconds remaining for the winning points, and the Muskies survived a last-second shot attempt by the Falcons to advance to the final.
Aurora easily dispatched seventh seed Benedictine (Ill.) University 87-67 in the quarterfinals, and then also had a battle in the semifinals before defeating No. 3 seed Dominican (Ill.) University 71-67. The Spartans never trailed in the second half against Dominican but still had to hold on as the Stars closed as close as two points in the final minute.
Lakeland is looking for its fourth-ever appearance in a national tournament. The Muskies first appeared in the NAIA tourney in 1966, recording its lone national tourney win in school history with a 95-81 victory over Linfield (Ore.) before falling 72-68 to Central State (Ohio). Lakeland also appeared in the NAIA Division II Tournament in 1994 after the NAIA split its tourney into two divisions, losing 71-57 to McMurry (Texas) College. Most recently, Lakeland appeared in the 2004 NCAA Division III Tournament, where it lost 86-51 to Lawrence University in the first round.
Live audio and video of Saturday's game will be available online at http://www.lakeland.edu/muskieslive. Nate Dehne will handle the play-by-play of the game.
Saturday is a big championship day for more than just the Lakeland men's basketball team. The Muskie wrestling team will face three other teams for the seventh annual Northern Wrestling Association championship in Watertown, hosted by Maranatha Baptist Bible College.
Lakeland is going for its sixth consecutive NWA championship, having won the title alone from 2008-2011 and sharing the title last year with Milwaukee School of Engineering. The Muskies were 2-1 in NWA dual meets this season, defeating MSOE and Maranatha Baptist while losing to Concordia. Maranatha will be providing match scoring on Saturday at http://www.trackwrestling.com.
The Lakeland men's and women's track & field teams also will be competing at the NAC Indoor Track & Field Championships on Saturday. Head Coach Marc Small is in his first year building the Muskie program and will take a small contingent of athletes to the meet. Lakeland will have at least one athlete in contention for an individual title, as Vashia Gordon (Sr.-Green Bay, Wis.) ranks fifth in the NAC in the high jump, just 2 1/4 inches off the conference's high mark this season.
The meet will begin at 10:30 a.m. and is being held at Petretti Fieldhouse in Kenosha on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.