Nov. 30, 2008

Courtesy of Washington-St. Louis

Anderson, Ind., November 29, 2008 – Junior Aaron Thompson scored a game-high 20 points and was named the tournament MVP as the top-ranked and defending NCAA Division III national champion Washington University in St. Louis men’s basketball team overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to post a 70-68 victory over Anderson University in the championship game of the Anderson Invitational on Saturday in Anderson, Ind.

"I was proud of our team as they showed poise tonight," said Washington University head coach Mark Edwards. "We have a lot of pieces on this team, and it showed today."

Thompson, who averaged 18.5 points per game in the tourney, was 6-of-12 from the field and 3-of-8 from three-point range, as he passed Kevin Suiter (1984-88) into seventh place with 143 career treys. Junior Zach Kelly, who had a career-high 25 points in Friday’s win over Aurora, was also named to the all-tournament team as he averaged 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Anderson (2-2) led for most of the first half and took a 16-12 advantage on two free-throws by Andrew Jones. Sophomore Caleb Knepper scored four-straight points for the Bears, and a put-back by freshman Dyler Richter cut the lead to 19-18 with 9:46 remaining. Washington U. was called for nine fouls in the first eight minutes, sending senior Tyler Nading, Kelly, and freshman Dylan Richter and Alex Toth to the bench.
 
A three-pointer by sophomore Ross Kelley trimmed the lead to 25-21, but a 7-0 run gave Anderson a double-digit lead at 32-21 with 5:20 left in the first half.

Washington U. was called for 15 fouls in the first half, but trailed by just seven (36-29) at half after senior Sean Wallis scored on a lay-up with under a minute to play and junior Cameron Smith hit two free-throws with 5.2 seconds left.

The Bears hit 39.1 percent (9-23) form the field in the opening 20 minutes, but connected on 9-of-11 from the foul line to stay in the game. Knepper led the Bears with eight points of the bench, while Thompson added seven. The Bears committed 12 turnovers in the first half, which Anderson turned into 16 points.

A four-point play by Thompson trimmed the advantage to 43-40, but Anderson’s Ryne Foster came off the bench and nailed a three from the wing to push the lead to 46-40.

Nading picked up his fourth foul at 9:22, and Knepper replaced him and made an immediate impact. After a defensive stop by the Bears, Knepper canned a three-pointer from the top of the key on an assist from Kelley to make it a two-point game (54-52) with 8:37 remaining in the contest.

A three-pointer by Smith gave the Bears its first lead since 13:39 in the first half, and then a pair of free-throws by Thompson pushed the advantage to 61-58 with 5:31 left. A three-pointer by Rodney Holliday cut a four-point lead to one (69-68) with 42.8 seconds left, and Nading followed by connecting on 1-of-2 free-throws to make it 70-68.

After three-consecutive timeouts, Ty Riddle’s three-pointer was off the mark and knocked out of bounds with 0.2 seconds remaining. The ensuing inbounds pass was deflected as Washington U. secured its 11-straight win dating back to last season.

Knepper had a career-high 15 points and five rebounds in a career-best 18 minute of action. Smith had nine points and a season-best nine rebounds for the Bears, while Wallis added seven points and eight assists. Nading, who was making his 90th career start, was limited to eight points and six rebounds in just 18 minutes on the court.

"We had to play through the frustrations today and keep our heads up," Knepper said. "The cuts were there for me, and I made the most of the opportunity that was given to me."
                 
Washington University (5-0) hosts the 25th Annual Lopata Classic on Friday-Sunday, Dec. 5-7, at the WU Field House. The Bears take on Hamilton College (3-0) on Friday at 8 p.m. in the tournament opener, and then host No. 18 Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday at 3 p.m.