SALEM, Va.—Senior Joey Flannery finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds and classmate Charlie Rice added 19 points and a game-high 12 boards as third-ranked Babson College rallied from a 25-point deficit to defeat top-ranked and previously unbeaten Whitman College, 91-85, in an NCAA Tournament National Semifinal on Friday night at the Salem Civic Center.
With its fifth straight win, Babson (30-2) advances to the Division III national championship game for the first time in program history. The Beavers also set a new school record for wins in a season, while Whitman sees its historic year come to a close at 31-1.
Rice, who was limited to just nine minutes in the first half after picking up three fouls, scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds after the break for the Beavers. Junior Nick Comenale finished with 22 points, five boards and three assists, while senior Isaiah Nelsen contributed 20 points on 9-of-13 to go along with nine rebounds. Junior Chris Lowry led all players with a career-high nine assists and senior Matthew Droney chipped in with five boards and five dimes in the win.
Junior Tim Howell paced five players in double figures with 23 points to lead the Blues. Classmate Jase Harrison (Lancaster, Calif.) added 19 points and sophomore Austin Butler finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a losing effort.
Whitman connected on 18 of its first 24 shots, which included 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, to build a 45-20 advantage with 7:35 to go in the first half. Facing its largest deficit of the season, Babson responded with a 27-6 run to pull within four at halftime.
Flannery made a pair of three-pointers, Droney knocked down two free throws and then kicked out an offensive rebound to Comenale for a three-pointer that trimmed the deficit to 51-36 at the 3:00 mark. The Beavers followed with three straight layups, another triple from Comenale, and a hoop by Lowry to go into the locker room trailing just 51-47.
Comenale drilled his fourth trifecta of the night to cut the margin to just one less than two minutes into the second half, but the Blues responded by getting 14 points from Butler and Howell during a 16-3 burst that extended their lead back to 67-55 with 13:19 left. The Beavers punched back though, getting 11 points from Flannery and scoring on eight straight possessions to take their first lead since the opening minutes of the game at 70-69 on a bucket by Rice with 9:45 remaining.
The Green and White was unable to convert a steal on its next possession, but Rice and Nelsen combined for 13 points over the next seven trips to cap a 29-5 run that pushed the lead to 85-72 with 4:23 remaining. Whitman didn't go quietly as it ripped off 10 straight points to cut the Babson advantage to 85-82 with 1:10 left. Flannery answered with a coast-to-coast layup and Rice knocked down a pair of free throws after grabbing an offensive board with 28 seconds left to seal the victory.
Despite committing a season-high 22 turnovers, the Beavers shot 58.1 percent from the floor and finished with a 45-26 on the glass. They also scored 22 second-chance points and had 24 assists on 36 field goals.
The Blues, who scored 32 points off of turnovers, shot 46.7 percent for the game, but connected on just 33.3 percent of their shots over the final 28 minutes of the contest.
The national title game will be on Saturday at 6:07 p.m.
- With 24 points on Friday, Flannery has 2,597 for his career, which is good for 10th in Division III history.
- The Beavers are now 11-1 away from home this season and 8-1 when trailing at halftime.
- Babson has won 42 consecutive games when leading with 5:00 to go in the second half.
- Lowry's nine assists are the most by a Babson player in NCAA Tournament history (21 games).
- The Beavers have won 38 consecutive games when shooting 50 percent or better from the floor.