WOOSTER, Ohio – The latest classic between the 12th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team and 22nd-ranked Wittenberg University came down to the wire, with the visiting Tigers pulling ahead in the final 10 seconds to take the 2019 North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship game 79-75 on Saturday afternoon at Timken Gymnasium.
Wooster (23-5) now must wait and see if it will be extended a Pool C (at-large) berth to the 2019 NCAA Div. III Championships. The championship field is slated to be announced at 12:30 p.m. on Monday via NCAA.com.
Wittenberg's (23-5) Mitchell Balser scored the go-ahead points with 7.7 seconds left on a steal and fast-break layup. Wooster did have a chance to tie, but all-tournament team honoree Connor Seipel closed in just in time to swat aside the Scots' game-tying layup attempt. Balser secured the rebound and made it a four-point game with 1.3 ticks left at the charity stripe.
In the first half, Wooster pulled ahead by eight with 8:44 to go, thanks to a 10-0 run. Senior Eric Bulic, who earned a spot on the all-tournament team, was at the forefront of the Scots' success, starting with a layup in the paint. The forward dished out two of his four assists during the run, including on a three-pointer by freshman Khaylen Mahdi that came right after a Bulic steal.
Wooster maintained its lead for the duration of the stanza and was up eight at two more junctures. First, Dupler's jumper made it a 38-30 game with 3:49 to go, and the senior scored his 17th and 18th points of the half at the 2:01 mark to put Wooster up 40-32.
|Senior Reece Dupler is the latest Scot to surpass 1,500 career points.|
It came as no surprise that Dupler earned a spot on the all-tournament team. After all, the senior's 33 points marked the second-most in a NCAC Tournament game in program history. Additionally, the standout became the 11th Wooster great to eclipse the 1,500-point mark, doing so on a three-pointer with 5:26 left in the opening half.
James Johnson, who earned the Al Van Wie Most Valuable Player honor, gave Wittenberg the lead for nearly the duration at the 17:54 mark of the second half. Johnson's bucket came in the midst of a 16-2 stretch for the Tigers.
Wooster, which trailed by nine at 52-43 when the run ended was playing catch-up the rest of the way, but was ultimately handcuffed by five missed free throws over the final 4:43.
Defensively, sophomore Dontae Williams did his part to keep the Scots in the hunt with four blocks over the last five minutes and change, while offensively, Wooster tied the score twice. First, Dupler split a pair of free throws with 1:30 left to tie the game at 72. Then, Hempy knocked down a three-pointer to answer back Jacob Bertemes' long-range field goal.
Dupler canned 13 of his 19 field goals for the game, and that included a 5-for-7 mark from three-point land. Hempy (14) and Mahdi (10) joined the Scots' latest 1,500-point man in double figures scoring, while Bulic's 10 rebounds marked the game high.
Other key stats for Wooster included Bulic's game-high four assists and two steals by Williams.
Wooster shot 46.6 percent (27-for-58) from beyond the arc, which included a 10-for-24 showing from three-point land.
Balser led four Tigers in double figures with 19 points, while Seipel poured in 18 points to pair with a team-high eight rebounds.
Other stats to note included four steals by Balser.
Wittenberg shot 54.7 percent (29-for-53) for the game and continued to impress at the free-throw line with a 16-for-18 ledger.
Wooster's all-time lead in one of small college basketball's top rivalries is now one at 60-59. Saturday's meeting marked the 13th in the NCAC Tournament championship game and the 48th game decided by five points or less.
DePauw University's Nick Felke and Wabash College's Harrison Hallstrom rounded out the all-tournament team.
Should Wooster be extended a Pool C bid on Monday, it'll extend the Scots NCAA Div. III record for consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances out to 17.