VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Virginia Wesleyan's search for an igniting moment, a play that could infuse fire into the Fish, came to fruition for the overflow crowd at the Jane P. Batten Student Center on Saturday when junior Ali Brown rambled down the lane and smashed through a monster dunk with 8:07 on the clock.

Rookie DJ Woodmore delivered the pass through the Franklin & Marshall defense to the 6-foot-8 Brown, whose stuff cut the Diplomats' lead to 60-55 and sparked a loud Marlin crowd for the remainder of the NCAA second round game.

More importantly, it was part of an intense finish, a 21-5 scoring blitz by the Marlins, who turned a 60-53 deficit into a 72-65 lead with 56 seconds remaining in the game. Georgio Milligan, the reigning Centennial Conference Player of the Year, attempted to carry the Diplomats on his shoulders down the stretch, but the shots would not fall.

When the final horn sounded, Virginia Wesleyan owned a hard-fought 79-71 victory and a berth in the NCAA's round of final 16 teams in the Division III championship tournament. It marks the third time in six years that Virginia Wesleyan has advanced to the round of 16. The Marlins will take on the Ephs (27-2) of Williams College on Friday, Mar. 11.

For now however, the Marlins are enjoying the comeback win over F&M (23-6), which took the lead on a James McNally jumper to halt a see-saw battle in the first half. The Diplomats took advantage of a cold-shooting VWC team in the half and pushed out to a 40-28 lead with 1:10 in the half.

Virginia Wesleyan came through with the final two scores of the half however, a jumper by Rakeem Davis, followed by a big time triple from Chris Astorga to cut the halftime deficit to 40-33.

Scoring by Brandon Beckford and Mike Baker pushed F&M into 11 point lead, but only temporarily. Woodmore put down a dunk, Chris Teasley hit a triple and VWC put together a 10-3 scoring spurt to pull back into contention, trailing just 49-47 with 14:33 remaining to be played.

But, the Diplomats came back strong to quiet the crowd with a 11-4 run, led by McNally with six points. A Beckford free throw gave F&M a 60-51 lead with 9:54 on the clock.

Momentum began to shift for the final time when junior Ed Roberts scored on a layup seconds later. A steal by sophomore Tre' Ford produced the game-turning dunk seconds later, when Ford got the ball to Woodmore, who fired it ahead to Brown for the rousing dunk.

In the next eight minutes, Donald Vaughn, Teasley, Woodmore, Davis and Ford all scored for the Marlins, who whittled away the deficit and took a 66-65 lead on a Vaughn jumper. Davis free throws and a timely Ford jumper helped the Marlins stretch their lead to 72-65 with 56 seconds remaining.

While VWC found its range in the final minutes, F&M went cold. The Diplomats attempted nine shots in the final three minutes, including four triples, and hit only two shots, including one triple. F&M attempted seven long rangers during the game and hit one, while VWC put up 18 attempts and hit eight, including three by Astorga.

Virginia Wesleyan, which drew numerous fouls driving inside on the Diplomats, attempted 38 free throws overall and hit 24. Davis connected on 8-of-10 attempts and Woodmore nailed 7-of-7. Milligan connected on 9-of-15 free throws for F&M, which hit 12-of-24 overall.

Virginia Wesleyan finished with a 37-32 edge in rebounding, but Milligan led all boarders with 10. He also led all scoring with 30 points, hitting 10-of-20 field goal attempts. Baker and McNally tallied 18 points each for the Diplomats.

Ford and Woodmore led Virginia Wesleyan with 16 points each. Teasley added 14 points and Davis tallied 12.