Wooster Earns Record 14th-Straight NCAA Div. III Tourney Bid, Will Play Unbeaten Lancaster Bible in D.C.

Milt Davis
Milt Davis

*Click here for complete game notes*

For an NCAA Div. III record 14th consecutive year, The College of Wooster is part of the NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship, this time earning an at-large berth to the field as the Fighting Scots will be headed to Washington, D.C., for first- and possibly second-round action on March 4-5. They're matched up against one of the two undefeated teams in the country, Lancaster Bible College (27-0), champions of the North Eastern Athletic Conference, on Friday, at 5:30 p.m., followed by host Catholic University (22-5), which won the Landmark Conference, and Endicott College (18-10), tournament champs from the Commonwealth Coast Conference. The two teams that advance Friday will play each other on Saturday at 7 p.m., for the right to go to the NCAA's sectional round (Round of 16). Wooster's 14-straight tournament appearances surpasses the 13-year run that the State University of New York at Potsdam put together from 1978-90.

Ticket Info: As determined by the NCAA, ticket prices for this weekend's opening rounds are $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens/students/children (age 2-18). All seating is general admission, and there will not be advanced ticket sales as Catholic does not anticipate a sellout.

On the Air: Catholic will be providing a live video stream and live stats of all games. Links can be found at the tournament page: cuacardinals.com/tournaments/mbkb/2015-16/index.

Additionally, every Wooster game can be heard live in the Wooster area on WQKT 104.5 FM or on the commercial radio station's website at wqkt.com. Mike Breckenridge serves as the "Voice of the Fighting Scots."

NCAA Tourney Notes: The Scots are making their 25th appearance in the NCAA Div. III tourney. Only three others have been in as many – Hope College (25), University of Scranton (27), and Wittenberg University (27).

Wooster, which also played in two other NCAA Tournaments prior to Div. III (1971, 1973), has been in the national field 21 of the last 22 seasons and 24 times since 1990. The Scots' all-time record in the Div. III tourney is 31-25 – 22-8 in games played at Timken Gymnasium, 8-6 at neutral sites, and 1-11 in true road games. Wooster has reached the Div. III sectional round ("Sweet 16") nine times over the last 17 years, highlighted by runs to the 2011 national championship game and to the semifinals two other times (2003, 2007).

Tournament Tough: Wooster is well prepared for the level of competition that it will face in the 2015 NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship, having played eight games against teams that are now part of the field, going 3-5 in such contests. The Scots fell to Skidmore College, 72-63, in their annual Al Van Wie/Rotary Classic, and also suffered non-league setbacks to Salisbury University, 67-50 in a game played at Puerto Rico Dec. 21, and to Marietta College, 72-57 during the title game of their annual "Mose" Hole/Kiwanis Classic. Within the North Coast Athletic Conference, Wooster split the season series with co-champion Ohio Wesleyan University, losing 88-75 on the road Dec. 2 and prevailing 91-90 at home on Jan. 27, and swept Denison University 83-67 and 82-75 during the regular season before being tripped up 92-81 in overtime of the NCAC Tournament championship. 

20 20-Win Seasons: In addition to now holding the record for consecutive appearances in the NCAA Div. III Championship, Wooster extended another national mark earlier this year with its 20th consecutive 20-win season. The second-best such streak in Div. III was SUNY Potsdam's 13 in a row (1978-91), while the next-best active are the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) and Whitworth University, both having extended their streaks to 11 this season. Among all divisions, Wooster is tied with Duke University for consecutive 20-win seasons, only behind the University of Kansas (27).

All-Time Series: Wooster has never met Lancaster Bible, Catholic, or Endicott on the hardwood.

Head Coach Steve Moore: The architect behind the winningest NCAA men's basketball team of the 2000s is Steve Moore. In addition to guiding Wooster to 431 victories this century, he carries a 29-year record of 689-158 (.813) with the Fighting Scots. Prior to coming to Wooster in 1987-88, Moore coached Muhlenberg College for six seasons and was successful there as well, giving him a career record of 776-223 (.777), which puts him third all-time in wins for Div. III coaches. Moore has eight Coach-of-the-Year honors from the North Coast Athletic Conference.

Conference Tourney Recap: The second-seeded Scots reached the championship game of the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament for the 19th time in the last 20 seasons, but finished runner-up for the second year in a row.

On Feb. 23, Wooster scored the game's first 12 points, eventually stretched its lead into the 20s during the second half before weathering a late rally by Oberlin College, as the Scots advanced in the NCAC Tournament with a 78-63 quarterfinal win at Timken Gymnasium. After that 12-0 Wooster spurt, neither team was able to put together a significant run and the Scots took a 36-22 lead into the halftime break. Wooster started the second half well, scoring eight points in a row during one stretch for a 20-point cushion (44-24), but Oberlin did not go away quietly, as the visitors trimmed a 66-48 deficit at the 4:48 mark to 72-63 with 1:35 left. The Scots held the Yeomen off, and individually, Spencer Williams (Bedford, Ohio / Orange) scored  a game-high 17 points and Dan Fanelly (Uniontown, Ohio / Green) was active with 15 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double since Dec. 20.

On Feb. 26, Wooster, which received 17 points and a career-high 18 rebounds from senior Josh Kipfer (Wadsworth, Ohio / Wadsworth), held off a series of runs by Hiram College during the second half and eventually topped the third-seeded Terriers 92-79 in an NCAC Tournament semifinal match-up on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. The Scots closed the first half with 11 unanswered points, including six from Williams, to break a 34-34 tie and construct their largest lead of the game to that point at 45-34. After Wooster scored on the opening possession of the second, Hiram quickly closed within 55-53, but that was as close as it got. The back-and-forth affair continued until the Scots turned an 81-74 margin with under four minutes left into 90-75 as Williams scored a fast-break lay-up and 3-pointer, followed by four consecutive points from Reece Dupler (Newark, Ohio / Lakewood). Kipfer's 18 rebounds equaled a Wooster best during an NCAC Tournament game, while Williams tossed in an even 20 points and Dupler 17.

On Feb. 27, Denison University's offensive barrage during the second half and overtime led to the fourth-seeded Big Red upending the Scots by a 92-81 socre in the NCAC Tournament championship game. Wooster led by 16 points early in the second half (51-35), then rallied just to force the extra session. During an extended stretch of the half, Denison made 8-of-10 3-pointers, the last giving it a 73-69 lead around the two-minute mark of regulation. Three defensive stops combined with two Mitch Balser (Centerville, Ohio / Centerville) free throws at the 58.5 mark and a Fanelly put-back with 21.0 left allowed the Scots to force overtime. Wooster gained early leads of 75-73 and 78-76 during the extra five minutes, however, the Big Red answered each time and would score every possession except for one. Statistically, Fanelly and Kipfer each recorded double-doubles, with the former going for 28 points and 11 rebounds and the latter 14 and 12, respectively.

Regular Season Recap: Wooster started out ranked No. 20 in the D3hoops.com preseason top-25 poll, but playing six newcomers among its typical 12-man rotation right from the outset resulted in some growing pains.

The Scots were an uncharacteristic 6-4 through the opening 10 games, though, two losses came against top-10 teams Marietta College and Ohio Wesleyan University and another was against regionally-ranked Salisbury University.

As the calendar turned to 2016, Wooster showed improvement while continuing to tinker with the rotation. A four-game win streak included a 100-69 rout of regionally-ranked Hiram College, then archrival Wittenberg University halted that momentum by tripping up the Scots 82-77 in overtime.

That setback, plus the insertion of freshmen Mitch Balser (Centerville, Ohio / Centerville) and Reece Dupler (Newark, Ohio / Lakewood), may have been the turning point of the season, as Wooster has played its best basketballball since. Chief among the highlights was a 91-90 victory over Ohio Wesleyan when Spencer Williams (Bedford, Ohio / Orange) sank two free throws with 0.7 seconds remaining and a 99-86 overtime win against Wittenberg as the Scots came back from 10 down with 8:33 to play in regulation.

Hiram prevented Wooster from earning the North Coast Athletic Conference championship outright via a one-point decision (70-69) on Feb. 10, but the Scots still earned a piece of the title – their league-leading 17th overall and 10th of the last 12 years.

A very balanced, efficient offense and solid defense have been the keys to Wooster's success. Seven players are averaging at least 6.0 points, but just two in double figures – Williams at 14.6 and Dan Fanelly (Uniontown, Ohio / Green) at 13.6 – and as a team, the Scots shot 50 percent or greater from the field seven of the last 12 regular season games (after reaching that level just once the first 13) while averaging 88.3 points during that stretch. On the other end, the Scots lead the league in defensive field-goal percentage (.406) and are helping to force the opposition average 15.7 turnovers.

This and That: Wooster has used an unusual number of different starting lineups this year, currently at 12. For some perspective, the coaching staff only went with a dozen starting lineups the previous three seasons combined ... Senior forward Alex LaLonde (Wooster, Ohio / Wooster) had his career come to a premature end recently due to a blood clot. The two year-starter and team's best defender was averaging 8.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 blocked shots, and his 95 career blocks rank seventh in school history ... Junior Dan Fanelly (Uniontown, Ohio / Green) recently became the 41st player in the Scots' tradition-rich history to reach 1,000 career points.