Title game teams ready to roll
Sleep isn’t a worry; players have to ‘go on adrenaline’
SALEM, Va. -- College of Wooster head coach Steve Moore was sitting at the table during his postgame press conference Friday night sending out replies to text messages as his players answered questions from the media.
“You can‘t believe how many texts I‘ve received from former players,” Moore said. “It’s been great to hear from them.”
Those former players have good reason to be thrilled for the success of the Fighting Scots, who edged Williams College 73-71 in an NCAA Division III national semifinal at the Salem Civic Center.
Now, Wooster, which overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half, will play for its first national championship in school history.
Denied twice in their previous two trips here (2003 and 2007), the fifth-ranked Fighting Scots (31-2) will look to make up for past shortcomings today when they square off against St. Thomas (29-3) in a 3:30 p.m. ET championship showdown. The Tommies, ranked eighth in the nation, survived a back-and-forth battle with No. 2 Middlebury, winning 73-71 in the second semifinal of the night.
Both teams spent a lot of energy to win their respective games and will take the floor today with tired legs. But with a trophy on the line and a chance to enjoy the thrill of being the last team standing in 2011, a short turn-around shouldn’t matter.
“You are playing for the national championship,” Moore said. “You can’t play tired. You have to go on adrenaline and give it your best shot.”
St. Thomas junior center Tommy Hannon said getting enough rest might be a problem. Other than that, he is confident the Tommies will be ready to roll.
“The hardest thing is going to be getting enough sleep,” Hannon said. “But it’s the national championship game. It’s a dream come true. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play for one.”
Wooster and St. Thomas are familiar with each other. They have played several times in the past, including four meetings in a season-opening tournament in Wooster. In the last matchup in 2009, St. Thomas cruised to an 84-53 victory.
“It should be a good time,” Fritz said. “We have a nice rivalry going with them. They are a very competitive team. We both come out of good regions and we both feel as if we can play with anyone in the country.”
Perhaps that is why Wooster and St. Thomas never hung their heads when they fell behind during their respective games at the Final Four.
The Fighting Scots went into halftime trailing 42-28 and were down 63-46 with a little under nine minutes to play before piecing together a comeback for the ages. Wooster shot 42.6 percent from the field and was paced by Ian Franks, who torched the Ephs for 24 points.
Although Franks is thrilled he has a chance to end his career on top of the basketball world, the senior guard is also glad he has given his coach another shot at a title.
Moore has been coaching at Wooster since 1987, winning more than 500 games in that time, and he is the architect of the winningest program of the decade at any level of college basketball. The Fighting Scots have won 84 percent of their games since 2000.
“We wanted to get to the national championship game for him,” Franks said. “He has been here twice and hasn’t won. I’m happy for him. We’re looking forward to winning one for coach.”
St. Thomas, in the Final Four for the first time since 1994, would love to add a championship banner to its rafters as well. The Tommies have worked hard to get to this point and even edged defending national champion Wisconsin-Stevens Point 66-64 during its tournament run.
St. Thomas was down 50-43 with 8:19 to play before fighting back to take the lead. The Tommies shot 45.7 percent from the field and were led by the 15-point effort of Tyler Nicolai.
“You don’t get here by accident,” senior guard Teddy Archer said. “We take a lot of pride in playing hard and it feels good to be in this position. We know we are going to be ready to play today.”
Senior guard Nathan Balch has been dreaming of this moment since the first day of the season. Now that it is here, he wants to help the Fighting Scots finish the job.
Wooster enters the national final riding a 10-game win streak. St. Thomas has won its last 11 games.
“Getting to Salem is definitely something we had in mind,” Balch said. “It feels good to win the first game, and now our ultimate goal is to win a championship. We can’t wait to play.”