The Fighting Scots’ men’s basketball team traveled to Greencastle, Indiana on Saturday, Jan. 22 to take on the DePauw Tigers. On the back of a three-game winning streak, Wooster strolled confidently into their second meeting with DePauw. When Wooster hosted DePauw in December, the Scots handily dispatched the Tigers by a score of 73-59. However, this would not be the case in the final regular season meeting between the two teams. On this occasion, DePauw would not be so easily run over, as they posed a serious threat to Wooster throughout the game.
The Fighting Scots failed to impose their will early, as they only held six-point leads at two separate points before the Tigers of DePauw began to heat up. Throughout the majority of the first half, the teams traded buckets, but neither team maintained a firm grasp on the flow of the game. Wooster took a 30-27 lead with about three-and-a-half minutes to play in the first half, thanks to a Brandon Styers ’22 jump shot. DePauw would then go on a 14-3 run to close out the half and take a nine-point lead into the break.
Wooster was narrowly out-rebounded in the first half, which proved to be detrimental when coupled with the Scots’ rough shooting throughout the half, as they only managed to convert on one of their nine three-point field goal attempts. Additionally, Wooster only had one player, Styers, in double digits, as the Scots could not find their shooting touch in the first half of Saturday’s showdown. These factors allowed DePauw to claim its commanding nine point lead at halftime. The Fighting Scots’ first half performance left much room for improvement and it was clear that they were keen on doing so, as the Scots cut the DePauw lead to only three points before the 15-minute mark. This provided Wooster with confidence heading down the stretch and it showed.
As the game continued, DePauw fought to keep its lead, but Wooster completed its comeback by way of an Elijah Meredith ’24 dunk, which followed a stellar defensive play from Carter Warstler ’24. Meredith said the following about the game: “Saturday’s win was a great one for the team. The DePauw road trip can be a tough one and I was happy that we were able to come together to get the win. Now we must carry this momentum into this next stretch of games.” Warstler provided crucial minutes for the Scots off the bench, playing 22 minutes while providing three steals, four boards and four points to complement the scoring from the starting five.
Wooster’s defense was vital in its second half dominance as the Scots suffocated DePauw’s previously successful offense. In the second half, the Tigers were held to 36% shooting from the field, a measly 16% shooting from beyond the arc and only managed 28 points. Coach Cline’s emphasis on rebounding was also clear, as the Scots out-rebounded DePauw 24-8. Nine of the Scots’ 24 rebounds were offensive rebounds, which Wooster used to rack up 16 second-chance points in Saturday’s game. Wooster’s dominance inside was also evident, as the Scots scored more than half their points in the paint, scoring 44 of their 78 points from down low.
The Tigers hung around deep into the game, cutting the Wooster lead to just one point with only a minute and some change to play. However, Wooster’s promising first-year Jamir Billings had an emphatic answer as he drained a three-pointer to dampen the spirits of the DePauw team. On the next possession, Billings turned defense into offense, grabbing a rebound and finding Najee Hardaway ’22 for another three that would serve as the knockout punch, putting DePauw away for good. This basket gave Wooster a seven-point lead and they would only add to it as time expired, giving Wooster a much-deserved 78-69 victory over its conference rival.
Forward Nick Everett ’24 spoke about the second half defensive improvement saying, “we made some defensive adjustments in the second half to defend their shooters. The defensive stops led to great offense at the other end. Players stepped up and hit some big-time shots to close the game.” The importance of playing on both sides of the ball is paramount to this team’s success and the Scots show a willingness to do the dirty work game in and game out.
Guard JJ Cline ’24 had a similar message, noting, “we faced adversity in the first half like many of our other games this year. When it came to the second half, we were able to come out and put together a total team effort. We kept chipping away and finally took the lead for good. It was an important road win against a tough conference opponent.” Wooster’s resilience has been on full display this season, as the Scots logged their fifth win in a game that saw them head into halftime trailing their opponent.
Wooster travels to Hiram and Wabash this weekend in back-to-back conference games on Friday, Jan. 28 and Saturday, Jan. 29. Best of luck to the team as tournament time approaches.