Late rally sends Wooster past Ephs
Wickliffe's free throws cap second half rally after 17 point deficit
SALEM, Va. -- Bryan Wickliffe made two free throws with 50.3 seconds left to give Wooster the lead and the Fighting Scots came back from 17 points behind in the second half to beat Williams 73-71 Friday night in the Division III men’s basketball semifinals.
Ian Franks scored 24 points before fouling out and Justin Hallowell had 18 for Wooster (31-2), which won for the first time in three trips to the national semifinals.
The Fighting Scots closed on a 27-8 run, but trailed 71-70 before Wickliffe’s free throws.
“It was a little bit of pressure, but I had been knocking down my free throws all game, so I was in a little bit of a rhythm,” the senior, who was 7 for 8, said. “I felt pretty confident.”
Williams had the ball at the end, but James Wang’s 3-pointer was off the mark and Taylor Epley’s layup from under the basket at the buzzer rolled around the rim and didn’t fall. Epley looked in disbelief for a whistle that never came and Wooster celebrated on the court.
Coach Steve Moore, in his 24th year at Wooster, will finally coach in the title game.
“We’re really happy for him,” said Franks, who fouled out with 1:06 to go.
Franks said sitting and watching the last 66 seconds was “pretty nerve-racking,” and when Wang let fly with his 3-pointer that could have won it, “I think coach Moore jumped in front of me, so I didn’t really see it,” he said, laughing. “I thought the layup was going in for sure.”
The Scots will play either Middlebury or St. Thomas in the finals.
Williams (29-3), seeking its second consecutive appearance in the championship game on the floor where it won the 2003 title, led 63-46 with 8:55 left before falling apart.
The Ephs were led by Nate Robertson with 21 points and Wang with 14.
“We got complacent,” Wang said of when the Ephs built the 17-point lead. “At that point, we had to keep our foot on the gas pedal and we just didn’t do it. Our offense got stagnant.”
Later, looking at the box, he did the math.
“I think they kind of figured us out,” Wang said. “They held us to eight points in the final nine minutes. You’ve got to credit their defense for that.”
The Fighting Scots seemed destined for another semifinal failure when, after getting within 10 early in the second half, a 9-2 run gave Williams the big lead and all the momentum.
But Wickliffe scored inside for Wooster, and the Ephs got sloppy, turning the ball over four times in the next 3 minutes as Wooster scored 17 in a row to pull even. Franks had seven points in the burst, including a 3 from the top of the key that tied it with 4:43 left.
The lead changed hands six more times, with Robertson’s layup and two free throws giving Williams a 71-70 lead with 1:06 to play, and then Wickliffe free throws changing it again.
Nathan Balch, who scored 13 for Wooster, added a free throw with 25.6 seconds to go, the final points of the game. Franks and Balch each scored nine in the spurt.
The Ephs came out like they’d been here before, outscoring the Fighting Scots 27-10 over the first 11 minutes, hitting five 3-pointers, while Wooster missed at least a half dozen shots from right in front of the basket. The Ephs shot 65 percent in the first half, Wooster 39 percent.
The Scots fell behind by as many as 18, closed within 11 and then trailed by 14 at halftime after Wang made a deep 3-pointer, the Ephs’ seventh in 14 tries, 8 seconds before the break.