HANOVER, Ind. – Sophomore Mitch Balser buried a corner 3-pointer off of an inbounds play with :08.6 remaining to pull The College of Wooster within one possession, but the Fighting Scots had to play catch-up all night, and could never pull ahead during a 77-72 loss to the Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA Div. III Championships at Collier Arena.
"The guys battled," said head coach Steve Moore. "Several times, it looked bleak, but they didn't give up. They continued to compete and cut back into the lead and tried to give us a chance."
Wooster (21-8) trailed by as many as 10 in the second half, but rallied back to make it a one-point game as late as 56-55 with 7:52 remaining when first-year Danyon Hempy capped an 11-2 stretch with a bucket. In fact, Hempy factored in defensively at the beginning of the run with a steal, and that led to a breakaway dunk from senior Dan Fanelly, who later pulled Wooster within one at 54-53 on a lay-in at the 8:59 mark.
In the final minute, Wooster faced a nine-point deficit with :55 remaining after North Central (18-10) broke the Scots' press and that led to a wide-open fast-break layup from Aiden Chang that made it a 71-62 contest.
|Sophomore Reece Dupler scored 15 points in the contest. Photo courtesy of Hanover College.
From there, Wooster struck fast and furious in a last-minute effort. First, junior Spencer Williams buried a jumper, and then was fouled on a 3-point attempt with :36 remaining, and his three free throws pulled Wooster within four at 71-67.
Later, Alex Sorenson sank two free throws with :07 remaining to bump the lead back to two possessions and clinch the game.
In the first half, Wooster's big men kept the Scots competitive. That effort started when junior Alex Baptiste knocked a rebound out towards the perimeter to sophomore Reece Dupler, who drained a jumper to make it 7-6 with 17:26 left in the game.
After North Central doubled up on Wooster at 16-8 at the 13:34 mark, Fanelly slipped Baptiste a feed inside for an easy layup, and then stole a pass with Williams setting Baptiste up for a dunk to make it 16-12 with 12:48 remaining.
Next, North Central pulled out to a seven-point lead at 23-16 with 8:12 remaining in the frame. Fanelly continued to spark Wooster with a block, and later, Williams finished an and-one to cut the Scots' deficit back to four at 23-19 with 6:49 to go before the half.
At the end of the first half, Fanelly finished a lay-in that made it 36-34 with :22 ticks left in the frame and cap a 7-0 run. At the front end of the rally, Balser knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:52 left to make it a two possession game.
Fanelly led the way with a game-high 23 points and capped his career with 1,684 points, good for sixth on the tradition-rich program's all-time scoring list. The forward filled his stat line with seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and two steals.
Dupler added 15 points while Williams chipped in 11.
Notable, junior Derek Schwarz provided seven key minutes off of the bench in the first half and finished with five points.
Erwin Henry led four Cardinals in double figures with 20 points, while Jagger Anderson, Henry, and Sorenson combined for 22 rebounds.
The game marked the conclusion of the fine careers of Fanelly and Milt Davis. Wooster advanced to the NCAA Div. III Championships each year during their careers, won the North Coast Athletic Conference regular season championship twice, won two NCAC Tournaments, and won 94 games overall (94-27).
"Dan and Milt had excellent careers," said Moore. "They helped our team to a lot of success – a lot of wins, and championships. Of course their senior year is capped off by the conference tournament championship, which was a fine accomplishment. You have two guys who played hard for Wooster and had great careers."