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Men’s basketball: Aurora reaches finals of NAC tournament

Updated: February 19, 2013 11:22PM

When the going gets tough, point guards must get tougher.

Esteban Vega did exactly that Tuesday night in leading No. 2 seeded Aurora University to a hard-fought 71-67 victory over gritty Dominican University in the semifinals of the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament.

Vega, AU’s senior point guard, stared pressure in the face and had a huge laugh in the closing 35 seconds. Dominican (10-17) was forced to foul and chose Vega.

It was a bad choice.

Vega hit eight straight free throws and running mate Joel Iventosch 2 of 2 as the Spartans held on for the right to face No. 1 seed Lakeland, a 70-69 victor over Concordia-Wisconsin, in Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship game at Lakeland.

AU (21-6) defeated DU twice, once by 40 points, during the regular season but this game was a war from start to finish.

“I thought Dominican came in with a good game plan,” AU head coach James Lancaster said. “They gave us a lot of trouble. Our seniors really stepped up and we hit a lot of free throws the second half.”

The Spartans also showed some poise when things didn’t go their way early. The Stars jumped to an 18-9 lead early and built up a ton of confidence.

But a 13-2 AU run gave the Spartans a 29-23 lead before a pair of three-point baskets by DU’s Anthony Keener (20 points) enabled the Stars to force a 29-29 standoff at halftime.

The final 20 minutes was almost all AU until the closing two minutes when the Stars refused go away quietly.

A 14-4 run provided the cushion AU needed. Reserve guard Gavin Walker came up with a gigantic three-point play on a twisting layup and free throw during the run.

Then it was Vega, a perfect 10 of 10 from the free-throw line and a game-high 25 points, who took over. Besides his points, Vega was guilty of only one turnover.

Even so, DU didn’t go away. The Stars cut AU’s lead to three twice, 65-62 and 67-64, with clutch shooting of their own.

“We just couldn’t put them away,” Lancaster said. “I don’t know it that was smelling the butter (the championship game) or if Dominican just didn’t want their season to end.”

While the Stars nailed 11 of 32 from behind the three-point arc, the Spartans were a cold 3 of 17.

“I think it’s just that time of the year. It’s been a long season and we didn’t have our legs under us,” Lancaster said. “But, our defense was there the entire time and our depth.”

Scott Laskowski added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Spartans.

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