March 6, 2009

Courtesy of Washington-St. Louis

Elmhurst, Ill. – Junior Aaron Thompson scored a game-high 26 points and hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 12.3 seconds left to lead the No. 2 ranked and defending national champion Washington University in St. Louis men’s basketball team to a 67-65 victory over No. 20 Lawrence University on Friday night in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Division III Tournament held Friday night at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill.

Washington University (24-2) takes on the winner of No. 8 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and No. 19 Elmhurst College on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the regional championship game.

"The first game in the NCAA Tournament is the most difficult no matter who you play," said Washington University head coach Mark Edwards, who picked up career win number 501. "We knew Lawrence was a very good team, and they played well tonight."

Trailing 61-57, junior Zach Kelly recorded a three-point play to trim the lead to one (61-60) with 2:14 left. After a defensive stop, Thompson scored on a fast-break lay-up to make it 62-61.

Ryan Kroeger nailed a three-pointer from the corner with 19.3 seconds left to give Lawrence a 64-63 lead, but Thompson followed with a 25-footer to put WU up 67-65. The Vikings had a golden opportunity on the last possession to tie, but Dustin Lee missed an open lay-up with four seconds left.

Despite shooting  35.4 percent (23-65) from the field, the Bears picked its 24th win of the season, third most in school history. Washington U. also picked up its eighth-straight in the NCAA Tournament dating back to 2007.

The Bears, who lead Division III with a 1.66 assist-to-turnover ratio, had 14 assists and a season-low six turnovers in the victory. Senior Tyler Nading, Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Thunder Ridge) finished the contest with nine points and seven rebounds, moving past Jon Bergman (1984-88) into sixth on the all-time scoring list with 1,470 points. Thompson made four three-pointers in the victory, moving past Scott Stone (2002-06) into second place all-time with 204.

"We were struggling from the field in the first half, and we needed some stability and that’s what I provided," Thompson said. “My shot felt great all game. Those shots near the end of the game you have to confident about, and I was."

The Bears started off slow hitting just two of their first 17 shots to trail 15-6 with 13:22 remaining in the first half. WU trailed 8-6 after the first media timeout, but nine straight misses by the Bears gave Lawrence an opportunity to build a double-digit lead.

Jayce Apelgren nailed a 15-foot jumper, drilled a three from the top of the key, and ended his own 7-0 run with a lay-up to give Lawrence a 15-6 lead. After another miss by the Bears, Chris Page scored on a fast-break lay-up to give the Vikings its largest lead of the game at 17-6 with 12:57 remaining.

Thompson took over the game to keep WU alive. He nailed a three from the corner and stole the ball on the ensuing possession and dropped in a lay-up. A three pointer by freshman Dylan Richter trimmed the lead to six, and then Thompson’s second three of the half gave Washington U. a 21-20 lead with 8:18 left

Senior Sean Wallis picked up his second foul of the half with 8:39 left in the first half, and Edwards went to junior Ross Kelley off the bench. Kelley followed by scoring seven-straight points to knot the score at 28-28.

The final four seconds of the first half seemed to be a big difference in the game. Thompson drained a 30-footer with 2.8 seconds left to five WU a 34-33 advantage, and after Lawrence did not get the ball inbounds, Thompson hit a 15-footer as time expired to give WU a 36-33 halftime lead.

Thompson had 17 points to carry the Bears in the first 20 minutes of action, as they shot just 37.1 percent (13-35) from the field. WU had an 11-2 advantage in points of turnovers in the first half, and outrebounded Lawrence, 20-17.
Washington U. started the second half nothing like the first as they hit five of its first seven shots to build a 46-38 advantage after a backdoor lay-up by Nading. He scored six points in the first four minutes of the second half for the Bears.

Lawrence (19-7) got back into the contest with its outside shooting. John Dekker nailed a triple to cut the lead to four (50-46), and then he drilled a three from the wing to give the Vikings the lead at 54-52 with 11:56 left.

Washington U. went cold from the field and went without a field goal for 9:04 in the second half after missing 10-straight shots from the field. Despite the inability to score, the Bears only trailed by four (61-57).

Lawrence, who entered the game on a nine-game winning streak, was led in scoring by Dekker with 17 points. Apelgren also added 15 points for the Vikings, which were outscored 18-2 in points off turnovers.