WOOSTER, Ohio – The 16th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team's remarkable season came to a close on Saturday evening, with visiting Wheaton College's 8-0 second-half run ultimately holding as the tipping point in the Thunder's 78-70 win over the Fighting Scots in second-round NCAA Div. III Championship action at Timken Gymnasium.
Neither team led by more than five in a first half that featured exciting back-and-forth action, minus a host of lead changes. Wooster (24-6) led by three at 9-6 with 15:23 left when freshman Khaylen Mahdi hit a mid-range pull up, and three points was again the margin after junior Danyon Hempy canned a pair of free throws with 13:48 to go before halftime. In fact, Wooster led by three once more thanks to junior Trenton Tipton sinking a field goal from range, but Wheaton (21-8) answer with a 7-0 run to open up a four-point cushion at 18-14 with just north of 11 minutes left on the first-half clock.
|Wooster's season came to a close on Saturday, but for the a NCAA Div. III record 17th consecutive year, it did so in the NCAA Tournament.|
Wooster threw a plethora of defenders at Wheaton's Aston Francis, from 6-8 senior Eric Bulic to 5-7 Mahdi, and even 6-5 Hempy. While the all-divisions leader in the NCAA in points per game did finish with 43 on the night, the Scots certain did make him miss enough at 13-for-33 from the field, but Wooster ultimately couldn't capitalize enough of the offensive end. It was Francis who bumped Wheaton's lead out to five at two junctures of the first half, including with just over 30 ticks left. At that point, he upped the scoring count to 14 for the game.
Hempy pulled Wooster within one at 45-44 with 14:19 left in the game on a mid-range jumper, but that's as close as the Scots came on the scoreboard. Francis countered with a quick three-pointer to kick off the 8-0 stretch, and he staked the Thunder to an 11-point lead with just over seven minutes left.
Later, Wooster was within seven at three different points, only to see Francis deliver the counterblow each time.
Hempy led Wooster with 28 points to up his season haul to 618 – the fifth-most in the program annals. Additionally, with a 20.6 per-game average, he joins 2002-03 National Player of the Year Bryan Nelson as the only players to average at least 20 per night during the tenure of legendary head coach Steve Moore. In fact, Hempy and Nelson are the lone players since Tom Dinger lit up the scoreboard on a near-nightly basis in the late 1960s and early 1970s to finish north of 20 points for a season.
Dupler wrapped up his career with 13 points and the four-year standout finished 11th in program history at 1,556 points. The Newark, Ohio native's 658 career field goals rank sixth all-time at the College.
Wooster shot 42.4 percent (25-for-59) for the game, but the Scots were outrebounded by 11 and turned it over 12 times.
Francis logged another double-double, and the senior sensation finished with 85 points and 25 rebounds between the first- and second-round NCAA games.
No other player for the Thunder was in double figures, but Spencer Peterson and Anajuwon Spencer had six rebounds each.
Wheaton shot 40.3 percent (25-for-62) for the game, secured 11 offensive rebounds, and coincidentally tallied 11 second-chance points. Additionally, the Thunder were an amazing 20-for-23 at the charity stripe.
Wooster's highly successful season was headlined by the program's NCAA Div. III record 17th consecutive tournament appearance, a 23rd straight 20-win season, and a NCAC-leading 18th conference championship.