A buzzer-beating three-pointer sent the Northwestern (St. Paul) men’s basketball team to the biggest victory in the program’s 41-year history, at St. Thomas’ expense.

Porter Morrell hit a long three at the buzzer, sending the Eagles to a 71-70 victory over the Tommies in the first round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament on Friday night in De Pere, Wis.

As soon as I shot it, I could see straight behind it so I knew it was straight on, and I knew it had a chance,” Morrell said. “It went through the rim, and I don’t know what happened that.”
 

What happened was Morrell ran around the court before his teammates caught him in celebration.

We knew we belonged here,” Morrell said.

Northwestern (19-9) earned its 17th victory in a row after a 2-9 start. This one came after St. Thomas (24-4) — the No. 3 team in the D3hoops.com poll — rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half to take a five-point lead with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left.

Northwestern scored the next six points and went up 63-62 with 1:50 to go, but St. Thomas reclaimed the lead on two Marcus Alipate free throws, then expanded its advantage to 66-63 on Grant Shaeffer’s runner with 41.8 seconds to play.

The teams traded free throws before the Eagles’ Cody Sprenger tied it with a three with 13 seconds left.

Shaeffer responded with a driving layup with 6.2 seconds left to give the Tommies a two-point lead. Northwestern immediately got the ball in — St. Thomas coach John Tauer said he wanted to call a timeout — and Sprenger dribbled up court before finding Morrell for the winner.

Morrell] hit a really tough shot at the buzzer,” Tauer said. “Give them credit.”

The Eagles advanced to face Elmhurst, a 110-96 triple-overtime winner over host St. Norbert.

Morrell scored 18 points and added five rebounds and five assists for the Eagles, who led 25-14 midway through the first half after making 11 of their first 14 shots. Matt Watnemo scored 13 points, going 6-for-6 from the floor.

Ryan Saarela led the Tommies with 15 points, Conner Nord had 13 and Alipate 12.

“A huge win for us and for our conference too,” Eagles coach Tim Grosz said.

St. Olaf 90, Ohio Wesleyan 78: Riley Aeikens scored 19 points and the Oles made their final 12 free throws to beat the Bishops in Whitewater, Wis.

St. Olaf will play Defiance College, which upset defending champion, No. 2-ranked and host Wisconsin-Whitewater in the second game Friday.

Women

St. Thomas 70, Minnesota Morris 31: Maggie Weiers had 18 points and 10 rebounds and the Tommies became the first MIAC women’s team to start a season 28-0 after beating the Cougars (16-12) at St. Thomas’ Schoenecker Arena.

St. Thomas will play Luther, a 72-61 winner over St. Norbert, on Saturday.

Hope 75, Bethel 63: Maura McAfee had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Rebekah Llorens added 18 points and 10 rebounds and the Flying Dutch (24-4) defeated the Royals (21-7) in Wheaton, Ill.

Kelli Zimmermann scored 17 points to lead Bethel.