HOLLAND, Mich. – No. 1 DePauw endured its biggest deficit of the season and trailed at halftime for the first time this year, yet the Tigers survived Friday night with a 59-56 victory against Williams in the semifinals at Hope College’s DeVos Fieldhouse.
DePauw (33-0), which was making it third semifinal appearance, trailed by a season-high eight points (25-17) late in the first half and trailed the Ephs 28-27 at the intermission.
“We survived. It feels like we survived,” DePauw coach Kris Huffman said. “That is a credit to Williams, but I’m proud of how our team finished the first half with a run and made some runs in the second half. Their length caused us some problems. We were struggling. We didn’t have the kind of team defense we needed and it took us a while to adjust.”
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DePauw and Williams (25-7), which was making its first appearance in the national semifinals, were tied six times in the first eight minutes of the second half, before the Tigers went on a 15-4 run that gave them their biggest lead of the game, eight points (53-45). The Ephs drew to within five (54-49) with almost three minutes remaining, but Williams could not make it a one-possession game until the final seconds.
“It was only one point [at halftime] and that’s not a big deal,” DePauw senior forward Ellie Pearson said. “We were pretty calm, cool and collected. That was not our best half of the year and we were still down only one point so it could only get better from there.”
DaPauw, which won the 2007 national championship and is scheduled to face Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-6) in Saturday’s national championship game, stresses defense, rebounding and ball control. The Tigers helped force 15 Williams turnovers, out-rebounded the Ephs 37-35 and turned the ball over only five times.
“Five turnovers is pretty good against that defensive pressure,” Huffman said. “It’s about defense and rebounding and taking care of the basketball.”
Pearson led the Tigers offensively with 15 points, while sophomore guard Savannah Trees scored 14 and junior guard Ali Ross had 13. Williams was led by junior guard Ellen Cook who scored a dozen, while senior guard Jennie Harding had 11 and senior forward Danny Rainer scored 10.
“This was our first time on stage like this and you never know how a team is going to respond,” Williams coach Pat Manning said. “In the first half we played great defense.
“I’ve had 23 teams at Williams and I’ve never had a team like this that is so laid back. They never panic, never get rattled and they play because they love to play. We had never played in an arena like this in front of a crowd like this. DePauw is a great team,” Manning said. “You can’t make a lot of mistakes and get away with it.”
Looking to the championship game, Huffman is concerned with Wisconsin-Whitewater’s versatility, depth and athleticism.
“They are a great team, very athletic,” Huffman said of the Warhawks, who beat Amherst in overtime Friday. “It’s a tough, one-day preparation. They’ve got the inside game and the guard play so we will have to have a great effort defensively and rebounding and hopefully find more comfort on the offensive end.”
Williams is scheduled to face its New England Small College Athletic Conference archrival Amherst in Saturday afternoon’s consolation game. Amherst beat the Ephs in two of the teams’ three meetings this season.