EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire men's basketball team fell to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 78-65 Wednesday night at Zorn Arena.
The Blugolds finished out 2017 on a strong four game winning streak, but 2018 has been unkind so far as Eau Claire has struggled to begin Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) play dropping three straight games.
Wednesday night featured a strong start from the Blugolds and a new face in the starting lineup, Carroll University transfer Ben Widdes (Jr. – Rice Lake, WI). Eau Claire started the game with a 10-3 run highlighted by an athletic put-back from Cole Rabedeaux (So. – Poulsbo, WA/North Kitsap).
Head Coach Matt Siverling was thrilled with the way his team started the game.
"I loved the way we came out to play as a team," Siverling said. "I thought our guys came with a lot of energy, and we really needed that. It's why we were in the game the entire night."
Whitewater wasted no time fighting their way right back into the game as they responded with a 12-4 run to take a 15-14 lead. The Blugolds would remain close with the Warhawks following 3-pointers from Rabedeaux and Chris Duff (Sr. – Walker, MN).
With 3:27 left in the first half, it was Duff again hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game at 27. Whitewater would go on to regain their lead, but it was Duff, who would cap off the half in a big way. The senior would knock down his third 3-pointer of the half with 52 seconds remaining to trim the Warhawk lead to three points going into the break.
In the second half, the Warhawks came out with the lead and never looked back as they never surrendered the lead again. The Blugolds fought hard, trimming the Whitewater lead down to four points on multiple occasions, but were never able to get past that mark.
With just under seven minutes remaining, Widdes hit a 3-pointer to make it a 61-57 game. This gave Eau Claire their best shot to regain the lead. Whitewater's Mitchell Pfeifer hit a 3-pointer and on the ensuing possession, followed with a layup to sink the Blugolds.
Eau Claire was led by Duff, who finished with 21 points and four rebounds. George Diekelman (Sr. – Stevens Point, WI/SPASH) followed with 17 points, while Widdes added 10 points.
The night was a tale of two halves for the dynamic duo of Duff and Diekelman. Duff scored 17 of 21 in the first half, while Diekelman did his damage in the second half, scoring 15 of 17.
Head Coach Matt Siverling was proud of the way his team fought in a physical game.
"Our guys had to fight for everything offensively," Siverling said. "To only turn the ball over twelve times tonight, against a defense like that, was impressive."
Overall, the Blugolds fought hard, but it was not enough. The bright spot tonight was Ben Widdes, who could add a new dynamic to the team.
"Ben had a lot of experience," Siverling said. "To bring in a guy that can make plays, especially passing the basketball, is huge. He can create a lot of shots for guys like Chris or George."
The Blugolds (8-6, 0-3 WIAC) will look to get back on track, Saturday night where they will travel to take on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. Follow all the action on Blugold Game Day.