No. 14 Wooster Finishes on Wrong Side of Back-and-Forth Thriller in the Valley

Reece Dupler
Reece Dupler

MESA, Ariz. – Sul Ross State University's Jezreel Griffin's offensive rebound and subsequent stick-back with :27.7 remaining held as the go-ahead points as the Lobos upended the 14th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team 88-84 on the second day of the Classic in the Valley held at Mesa Community College.

Wooster (7-3) had just taken the lead in the back-and-forth thriller with :49 left on a jumper by junior Danyon Hempy. The Scots' guard had a chance to give his team back the lead with :12 remaining, but his bid at changing the lead for the 15th time in the game was off the mark. Classic MVP Conner Dawson corralled the rebound and sank free throw Nos. 17 and 18 to up the Lobos' lead to three at 84-81 with :09.4 left.

Sul Ross State (4-6) sealed the game with a steal moments later, as the Scots' lead pass in transition was a little too far in front of senior Reece Dupler, and that led to Sul Ross State upping the lead to five.

Hempy, who was Wooster's honoree on the all-classic team, knocked down a quick three-pointer, but fellow all-classic team member Tristen Licon's two free throws made it a two-possession game with :01.3 left.

Prior to the closing stretch, Wooster was on the verge of separating itself from Sul Ross State at several junctures in the game, starting with just under eight minutes left in the first half. Hempy's fast-break layup capped a 10-2 stretch that culminated with Wooster leading 24-16 at the 7:55 juncture. Prior to the fast-break opportunity, junior Trenton Tipton came away with a big steal. Earlier in the run, senior Blake Blair and Tipton knocked down three-pointers on back-to-back possessions, while Hempy drained a jumper that made it 22-16 with 8:21 left.

Dupler's old-fashion three-point play with 5:04 to go before halftime also led to the Lobos being on the brink, as that put Wooster up 32-23. Dawson scored four of his seven first-half points during the ensuing 8-0 stretch for the Lobos that had Sul Ross State within one at 32-31 with 2:39 to go in the period.

Blair sparked Wooster's strongest offensive stretch of the second half with a pair of three-pointers, the second of which came in the midst of a 10-0 Wooster scoring spree that had the Scots up 65-55 with 9:51 to go. Senior Eric Bulic played a key role during that juncture of the game with an offensive rebound and subsequent kickout that led to Dupler's field goal from range.

Dawson took over with just under 6:30 to go with nine of Sul Ross State's next 12 points, the final three of which gave the Lobos a 75-72 lead with 4:01 to go. Both teams were within a possession of each other until the closing stretch.

Hempy's 31 points marked a new career-high, and the junior matched his career-best with four steals and was one rebound shy of his career-best eight set earlier this season. Dupler added 22 points and five assists, while Bulic's 11 rebounds marked the game-high.

Wooster shot 43.5 percent (30-for-69) for the game, finished with a 12-rebound advantage over Sul Ross State, and dished out 15 assists.

Dawson's 32 points led all scorers, and the guard was a remarkable 17-for-18 at the charity stripe. Dawson corralled six rebounds and passed out five assists. Licon added 21 points.

Sul Ross State shot 46.2 percent (24-for-52) from the field and was 31-for-36 at the free throw line.

In Wednesday's first game, No. 4 Whitman College (8-1) dispatched Alma College (0-9) 101-82. All-classic honoree Joey Hewitt led all scorers with 20 points and paired that with five assists and three rebounds. Jack Stewart joined Hewitt as Whitman's representatives on the all-classic team after 14 points, three steals, and two assists.

Alma's Cole Kleiver rounded out the all-classic team.

Next, Wooster hosts one of the longest-running small college basketball tournaments – the 56th annual E.M. "Mose" Hole/Wooster Kiwanis Classic. New Jersey City University (8-3) takes on Thiel College (3-7) in the first game of the classic at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29. Wooster (3-1 North Coast Athletic Conference) will host Ohio Wesleyan University (5-4, 1-2 NCAC) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, in a game that will serve as one of the two regular-season conference meetings between the programs.