Wooster Tops Denison, Advances to Ninth-Straight NCAC Tournament Championship Game

Eric Bulic
Dan Fanelly

DELAWARE, Ohio – Senior Dan Fanelly broke The College of Wooster's record for the most points in a North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament game, the Fighting Scots advanced to their ninth-straight tournament final, and extended their 20-win streak to 21 seasons with Friday night's 87-77 NCAC Tournament semifinal win over Denison University at Branch Rickey Arena.

With the win, Wooster (20-7) advances to play host Ohio Wesleyan University (21-6) at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Notable, the match-up marks the first time since 2013 when the top two seeds in the league tournament advanced to the final, and this time the roles are reversed with the Battling Bishops hosting the Scots.

On the national level, the Scots' win keeps Wooster tied with Duke University for the second-longest active 20-win seasons streak among all NCAA men's basketball programs. The two programs trail Kansas University's active streak of 28.

Fanelly, who matched his season-high at 32 points, shot 10-for-17 from the floor, and 11-for-13 at the charity stripe, all while surpassing Bryan Nelson's 31 points scored against Wittenberg University in the 2001 NCAC Tournament championship game. The senior surpassed the W Association Hall of Famer with a pair of free throws with :31 remaining that pushed Wooster's lead to 12 at 87-75.

The second half almost took an identical turn to the 2016 NCAC Tournament championship game won by Denison in overtime 92-81. Wooster opened a 17-point lead with 18:38 remaining in the half, and led by 16 with 17:24 to go in the 2016 title game. Then, similar to last year, Denison pulled within single digits, this time 51-42 with 14:02 left. Only this year, the script for the remainder of the game was rewritten starting with the stellar play of senior Milt Davis.

The guard scored nine straight Wooster points at one point when Denison was making its first second-half surge. Davis capped his stretch with a layup that pushed the lead back out to 14 at 56-42 with 12:49 remaining, two possessions after making it a double-digit lead with a 3-pointer.

Later in the second half, Denison pulled within three at 75-72 with 2:39 remaining after Jett Speelman capped a 14-4 run with a layup.

Then, Fanelly countered with a jumper to push the lead back to five, and it was back up to eight with 1:18 to go after sophomore Eric Bulic knocked in three of his four free throws.

At the game's onset, Denison led 9-4 just under four minutes into the contest, but Wooster's offense found its groove from there as the Scots put together a 13-2 clip with junior Spencer Williams driving through the lane for six of the 13 points.

Fanelly staked Wooster to its first double-digit lead of the game at 26-16 with 7:47 to go in the first half, and the Scots led by double figures against at 30-20 with 5:49 remaining in the opening stanza.

Denison then went on a 6-0 run to pull within four at 30-26 on a pair at the charity stripe by Speelman, and later cut it down to a four-point game at 32-38 and at 34-30 with Speelman doing the damage offensively each time.

Davis chipped in 15 points on the night, giving Wooster's senior class 37 for the game. Bulic added a season-high 11 points in the contest to pair with eight rebounds, while Williams reached double figures with 10 points.

Notable, sophomore Mitch Balser dished out a game-high five assists to pair with eight points.

Speelman led Denison with 24 points, surpassing 1,000 for his career. Notable, the senior's .965 free-throw percentage could stand as the Div. III single-season record should Denison not get an at-large bid to next week's NCAA Div. III Championships and no other student-athlete catch his percentage.

Meurer rounded out the Big Red's student-athletes in double figures with 22 points.