One more comeback. That’s all the Scots needed to take home a Division III men’s basketball championship for the first time in school history. Although Wooster’s 31 wins imply that it was a powerhouse throughout the season, the Scots were no strangers to finding themselves in a hole. Against Wittenberg University on Jan. 22, Wooster had a furious rally in the final nine minutes to erase an 11-point Tiger lead and win 65-58.
In the national semifinal against Williams College on Friday, the Scots were thoroughly dominated in the first half, entering the break down 42-28 after the Ephs hit seven three-pointers and shot over 65 percent from the field. Wooster, meanwhile, went one-for-six from beyond the arc, with the lone basket coming from a desperate heave by Bryan Wickliffe ’11 as the shot clock wound downóhis first attempt of the season.
The second half was a different story entirely. The Scots forced 10 of Williams’ 16 total turnovers, and Ian Franks ’11 scored 18 of his 24 total points in the half. The Ephs managed to go only seven-for-19 from the field, while their turnovers helped Wooster go 14-for-30.
However, the Scots still found themselves down 63-46 with less than nine minutes left in the game. Suddenly, Wooster got hot and Williams couldn’t hold onto the ball. Wickliffe made a layup to cut the deficit to 15, and then Nathan Balch ’11 drained a three after an Eph turnover. A minute later, Justin Hallowell ’12 cut the lead to single digits with another three, making it 63-54. Williams then missed a layup and fouled Franks, who hit both free throws, which were soon followed by two more from Wickliffe after a steal.
An offensive foul on the Ephs led to a jumper by Franks to make it a one-possession game, and 30 seconds later Franks tied the game at 63 with a three-point shot. With over four minutes left, Williams center Troy Whittington finally ended the run with a free throw, but Balch gave the Scots their first lead of the game with 3:35 left on the clock, hitting a jumper to make it 65-64.
From then on, it was a battle between Nate Robertson of Williams and the entire Wooster lineup. A three-point play from Robertson gave the Ephs a 67-65 lead, but Franks answered on the other end to tie it and Balch hit a three to give the Scots a 70-67 lead with two minutes left. Robertson made a layup to bring Williams to within one point, and on the next possession he drained two free throws after forcing Franks to foul out with a minute to go, giving the Ephs a 71-70 lead.
Wickliffe found himself at the line again with 50 seconds left and hit both shots to give Wooster a lead. After Robertson missed his next shot, he fouled Balch, who made one of two from the line, giving the Scots a 73-71 lead and Williams the ball with 25 seconds left. James Wang shot a potential game-winning three with two seconds left and missed. Taylor Epsley tapped the ball back up, but it bounced off the front of the rim and into Hallowell’s hands for an extremely dramatic Wooster victory.
Such a comeback was not to be found in the National Championship on Saturday against the University of St. Thomas. Although the game started out evenly, with St. Thomas ahead 19-16 with 10 minutes to go, the Tommies went on a 20-1 scoring burst and put the game far out of the Scots’ reach early. St. Thomas went into the break with a 43-26 lead.
Wooster didn’t give up so early, however. The Scots quickly pulled to within 10, closing the deficit to 46-36 with 17 minutes left, and it looked like they may have been able to pull off the comeback magic again. But the Tommies quickly scored the next seven points and never let their foot off the gas. Wooster did not get closer than 14 for the rest of the night, ultimately losing 78-54.
Wooster finished its season with a remarkable 31-3 record and made its way deeper into the tournament than ever before. Although it is heartbreaking to be one game away from winning it all, this was the best season in school history. With Balch, Wickliffe and Franks (who was again named Great Lakes Player of the Year) departing, it will be tough for the Scots to get back to this level. But coach Steve Moore will have Wooster on top of the NCAC again next year, in his 25th season at the helm. It won’t be long before the Scots make their way to the Final Four again.