It’s only three games into the season, but the Carthage men’s basketball team certainly sent a strong statement Tuesday night.
Knocking off the defending NCAA Division III national champions will do that.
Carthage led UW-Oshkosh for 35 of the game’s 40 minutes and withstood a furious late rally to hand the Titans a 64-57 non-conference loss before an excited and boisterous crowd at Tarble Arena to improve to 3-0 on the young season.
“This was a very physical basketball game between two good teams,” Carthage coach Bosko Djurickovic said. “We’re making progress. We have a chance to be good. We have the ingredients to have a really good season.”
A 9-0 run by Oshkosh (2-1 overall), ranked No. 2 in the latest D3hoops.com poll, nearly wiped out Carthage’s upset bid.
But with just a one-point lead in the game’s final moments, Carthage senior guard Jordon Kedrowski beat Oshkosh’s Eric Peterson to the basket and knocked down a short left-handed shot to push the lead back to three points with 35.7 seconds left.
That play was a critical one, especially with the Titans on the verge of rallying all the way back.
“The last couple times down before that, we had been getting kind of sloppy looks,” Kedrowski said. “We had a few guys foul out, so I knew near the end of the game I was going to have to make a play, and it just so happened to be on that play.
“(Peterson) played really good defense. All credit to him. I made the shot. We got the (win), and I’m happy about that.”
That being said, however, Kedrowski knows there’s a lengthy journey ahead for his team, regardless of the win over the Titans.
“By no means have we done anything yet,” he said. “That’s a quality win for us, and it gives us confidence moving forward. But we’re coming back (Wednesday) to work. We haven’t done anything yet.”
Kedrowski led Carthage with 20 points, as he played all 40 minutes.
“He’s a veteran basketball player,” Djurickovic said. “He’s a basketball guy. He deserves what he gets. It hasn’t always been easy for him. He has become a leader, a really good senior. He wants this (season) to go well, maybe more than all of us, and that’s a pretty cool thing.”
Oshkosh missed a 3-point attempt that would have tied the game on the possession following Kedrowski’s key bucket, and the Red Men clinched the victory at the free-throw line.
Carthage senior Jacob Polglase knocked down two from the charity stripe, followed by two more from Kedrowski to seal the deal.
Back-to-back baskets — the first by Kedrowski, who seemingly held himself in the air before his score — followed by a drive to the hoop by Indian Trail graduate and junior guard Joshua Washburn (seven points), gave Carthage a 10-point lead at 58-48 with 3:13 remaining in the game.
But the Titans, who last week knocked off third-ranked and Carthage’s College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rival North Central, came storming right back.
A 3-pointer by senior David Vlotho, followed by rebound baskets by junior Connor Duax and 6-foot-8 senior Jack Flynn — a preseason All-American — quickly pulled Oshkosh back within three points at 58-55.
Djurickovic had no doubt Oshkosh wasn’t going away.
“We talked before the game that we would have to match their physicality, compete on the boards and move the ball offensively,” he said. “We didn’t move the ball offensively as well as we needed to, but we competed on the boards and were just as physical as they were.”
Both teams missed 3-point shots on their next possessions, and after Flynn fouled out, Carthage was unable to convert on either of its two free throws. Oshkosh senior Adam Fravert, another preseason All-American, made two from the charity stripe just before Kedrowski’s critical shot.
Flynn scored the game’s first four points, but he was relegated to the bench the last 12 minutes of the first half with two fouls.
He was tough to handle, Djurickovic said, but Carthage 6-11 senior center Brad Perry gave his counterpart a battle throughout.
“I think Perry is as efficient as a scorer, but Flynn has better bounce,” Djurickovic said. “He has the ability to move a little bit better to create his own shot, which Brad doesn’t have. But when Brad gets position, he’s a monster.”
Carthage built its biggest lead of the opening half at 17-10 on two straight baskets by freshman Fillip Bulatovic (10 points), an athletic 6-5 forward, who used a screen by Perry (six points, four rebounds, three blocked shots) to score on a strong drive, then stole a pass and drove the length of the floor for a basket just 48 seconds later.
Kedrowski has been impressed by Bulatovic.
“He’s an exceptional player,” Kedrowski said. “His confidence as a freshman is unheard of, especially in this league. You don’t get a lot of freshmen who are ready to play in a huge game like that.”
The opening half featured a technical foul on Carthage for two “flopping” calls, which is an emphasis by collegiate officials this season. The first call is a warning, followed by a technical on the second.
Oshkosh missed the free throw, and Carthage held a 27-19 lead at halftime.
The Red Men used a 10-2 scoring run early in the second half to build their biggest lead of the night at 42-29. A short jump hook by Perry put Carthage ahead, 40-29, followed by two Kedrowski free throws after Oshkosh coach Matt Lewis received a technical foul for arguing a call.
Trailing by just six points at the 8:36 mark, Oshkosh looked poised to pull within four, but Perry swatted away two point-blank shots that led to a foul at the other end of the floor and two Bulatovic free throws for a quick four-point swing.
Senior forward Kienan Baltimore added nine points for Carthage, followed by 6-11 junior center Sean Johnson with six points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
Flynn led Oshkosh, which shot just 28.4 percent from the field, with 17 points, followed by Duax with 12 and Fravert with 10.
Djurickovic credited his son and assistant coach, Steve, with putting together a solid defensive plan to try and slow down the Titans’ attack.
“His scouting report was spot-on,” Bosko Djurickovic said. “We did a good job of executing the scouting report. ... Give the guys credit. They did a good job defensively and competed all the way through.”