Fighting Scots Ready to Continue Quest for National Championship

Justin Warnes
Justin Warnes

The College of Wooster is one of four teams vying for a national championship this weekend, March 18-19, as the Fighting Scots (30-2) will be at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va., for the final action of the 2011 NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship. On Friday evening, Wooster's quest continues in the semifinals when it takes on Williams College (29-2) at 6 p.m., and following that match-up, Middlebury College (28-1) and the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) (28-3) will play in the other semi, starting at approximately 8 p.m. The two winners advance to the finals, which will be held Saturday, March 19, at 3:30 p.m. All four teams were ranked among the top-10 in the final D3hoops.com top-25 poll prior to the NCAA Tournament, with Middlebury No. 2, Williams No. 4, Wooster No. 5, and St. Thomas No. 8.

Ticket Info: Wooster's initial allottment of tickets was sold out Tuesday, however, there are still seats available. Please call the Salem Civic Center box office at (540) 375-3004 to reserve a ticket. All seating is reserved and tickets come in a two-game package, with prices set at $25 for adults and $12.50 for students. Also of note, the box office will be open at 10 a.m., on both game days for on-site sales.

On the Air: For those fans unable to attend the games in Salem, Va., live video and audio, produced by Turner Sports, of the semifinals and the championship game will be provided by the NCAA over the web. Follow links at http://www.ncaa.com/liveschedule.

Every Wooster game can be heard live in the Wooster area on WQKT 104.5 FM or anywhere by following links on the commercial radio station's website at http://www.wqkt.com/. Mike Breckenridge serves as the "Voice of the Fighting Scots."

Additionally, live stats of the Williams-Wooster semifinal will be provided at http://www.cstv.com/gametracker/launch?event=985313&school=fo&sport=mbaskbl&.

NCAA Tourney Notes: The Scots are making their 20th appearance in the NCAA Div. III tourney. Only six others have been in as many – Franklin & Marshall College (22), Hope College (22), Illinois Wesleyan University (20), Salem State College (22), Univ. of Scranton (23), and Wittenberg University (25).

Wooster, which also played in two other NCAA Tournaments prior to Div. III (1971, 1973), has been in the national field 16 of the last 17 seasons and 19 times since 1990. The Scots' all-time record in the Div. III tourney is 24-20 – 17-5 in games played at Timken Gymnasium, 6-5 at neutral sites, and 1-10 in true road games. Wooster has reached the Div. III sectional round ("Sweet 16") seven times over the last 13 years, and now the semifinals ("Final Four") for a third time.

Making Reservations for 2015: This is Wooster's third trip to Salem, Va., as a semifinalist in the NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship, with the three coming every fourth year – 2003, 2007, and 2011. The first two times, the Scots dropped tightly-contested games to schools out of the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

Look Back at 2007: Fielding a team with two All-Americans in James Cooper and Tom Port, Wooster was unable to overcome Andrew Olson-led Amerst College in its most recent national semifinal game. The Scots found themselves in an unusual spot, falling behind 18-4 just 4:35 into the action, and were down 39-25 at the half. However, Wooster opened the second with a 21-4 run to take the lead (46-43), and was also ahead 60-59 with 2:02 to go. The Lord Jeffs would score the next four points for a 63-60 advantage, and with under :20 remaining, the Scots had an open 3-pointer that was off the mark and rebounded by Amherst, which followed with a series of free throws to seal the outcome. Tim Vandervaart, now an assistant coach for Wooster, paced the Scots with 20 points on 9-of-10 field goals for an eventual spot on the all-tourney team, while Olson, the Div. III Player of the Year, posted a stat line of 15 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and three steals.

Look Back at 2003: The Scots' first trip to Salem, Va., was headlined by a heartrbreaker in the semis and the play of Bryan Nelson. Wooster faced off against Williams College and lost 74-72 when Drew Demuth converted a tip-in as the horn sounded at the end of the first overtime. Noteworthy, neither team led by more than five the entire game. The Scots were ahead 58-53 around the five-minute mark, but Williams responded with a 7-0 run, and later Rodney Mitchell gave Wooster a 64-62 lead with :26 left, only for Benjamin Coffman to quickly answer with two of his career-high 33 points, which eventually sent the game into the extra session. Nelson, while playing with an air cast on his right leg, finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, and was named to the all-tournament team.

All-Time Series: Wooster's only previous meeting with Williams was that 2003 semifinal game, thus the Scots' record versus the Ephs stands at 0-1.

Middlebury and Wooster have never played each other on the hardwood.

St. Thomas (Minn.) has been a relatively common opponent of the Scots recently. The Tommies have visited Wooster for the annual Al Van Wie/Rotary Classic every other year, starting in 2001-02. They've met four times in the traditional season-opening tournament, each winning two, with the most recent going to St. Thomas in decisive fashion, 84-53 on Nov. 21, 2009. Also of note, the two schools' baseball programs played for the national championship in that sport in 2009, with St. Thomas prevailing 6-4 and 3-2 in 12 innings.

Common Opponents: So much for comparing scores, the Scots have not played any of the same opponents this season as the other semifinalists.

Head Coach Steve Moore: The architect behind the winningest NCAA men's basketball team of the 2000s is Steve Moore. In addition to guiding Wooster to 310 victories this century, he carries a 24-year record of 568-128 (.816) with the Fighting Scots. Prior to coming to Wooster in 1987-88, Moore coached Muhlenberg College for six seasons and was successful there as well, giving him a career record of 655-193 (.772), which puts him seventh all-time in wins for Div. III coaches. Moore has seven Coach-of-the-Year honors from the North Coast Athletic Conference.

NCAA Tournament Sectional Recap: For the third time (2003, 2004), Wooster hosted a sectional round of the NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship and defended its home court to earn a trip to Salem, Va., for the semifinals.

On March 11, the Scots made 61.1 percent of their shots from the field in steadily pulling away from Cabrini College 94-77 Friday night in the teams' sectional semifinal (round of 16) match-up at Timken Gymnasium. Wooster started out hot from outside, knocking down seven of its first nine 3-pointers, led by Matt Fegan (Strongsville, Ohio / Strongsville) and Justin Hallowell (Columbus, Ohio / Thomas Worthington), who each made three during that stretch, the third of Fegan's giving the Scots a 31-18 lead. Wooster extended the margin to 17 and was ahead by 12 at halftime (48-36). Early in the second, it fluctuated between a 6-to-12-point spread before the Scots put the game away with a 14-2 run, keyed by eight points from Josh Claytor (Oxford, Ohio / Talawanda). Wooster's hot start from the outside resulted in some quality looks in the post later, as Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep) recorded his second-highest point total of the season with 23 on 10-of-11 field goals, and also on the inside, Claytor tallied a season-high with 15 points, which included 5-of-5 shooting from the floor. Joining Wickliffe in the 20s was Hallowell, who hit 5-of-9 3-pointers as part of a 21-point night, and Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central) added 15 points and four of the Scots' 21 assists. Franks and Wickliffe shared rebounding honors with eight apiece.

On March 12, after falling behind for the first time during the second half (51-49), Wooster answered with an 11-2 run to go ahead by seven (60-53) with about 5:45 remaining and went on to knock off No. 1 ranked Whitworth University 76-66 in a sectional championship game. Whitworth held the early momentum, building a series of eight-point leads, but shortly thereafter, the Scots connected on 3-pointers on three-straight possessions to take their first lead at 31-29. Later, Wooster accounted for the last six points of the half, four via Jake Mays (Tallmadge, Ohio / Tallmadge), which gave the hosts a 37-33 advantage. Early in the second, the Scots upped their lead to eight (45-37), but then endured an offensive drought with just one field goal over the next eight minutes. That allowed the Pirates to go ahead, but after a Wooster timeout with 8:24 remaining, Nathan Balch (Westerville, Ohio / Olentangy) nailed a 3-pointer and the Scots never trailed again. The key stretch was a 6-0 run, turning a one-point game (54-53) into seven (60-53), as Whitworth never got within a single possession again. Statistically, the key factor for Wooster was limiting one of the top offensive teams in the nation to 40.4 percent shooting from the field (23-for-57), nearly 10.0 percent below Whitworth's season average (.495). Individually, Franks had 19 points and four assists and Hallowell scored 16 to go with eight rebounds, while Balch chipped in an even dozen in the scorebook. The most important contribution may have come from Justin Warnes (Toledo, Ohio / Bowsher), who not only held the Pirates' top scorer in check (8-of-20 field goals, seven turnovers), but reached double digits for just the second time this season with 11 points coming on 3-of-4 3-point shooting and an electrifying first-half dunk.

NCAA Tournament First and Second Round Recap: After winning the conference tournament, and thus receiving the league's automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship, the Scots were also awarded home games during first- and second-round action.

On March 4, a 15-point lead early in the second half was eventually whittled down to three, but Wooster hung on for a 74-68 victory over Benedictine (Ill.) University in the teams' first-round tilt. Ahead 38-30 at halftime, the Scots dropped in the opening seven points of the second to open up that 15-point cushion, however, a 10-1 Benedictine run ensued to make it 46-40. Later, another double-digit Wooster lead (60-50) turned into a single-possession game (62-59) with about 3:30 left. Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central) responded by earning a trip to the free throw line, where he sunk both, and following a defensive stop, he added a driving lay-up for a 66-59 cushion. The Eagles never got closer than four the rest of the way. Justin Hallowell (Columbus, Ohio / Thomas Worthington) led the way for the Scots with 19 points, including 4-of-8 3-pointers, and a career-high 15 rebounds. Franks added 16 points, keyed by 8-of-8 free throws, and a game-high five assists, while Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep) fell just one board short of a double-double (11 points, 9 rebounds).

On March 5, Manchester College got off a game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer, but it was short as Wooster gutted out a 47-45 second-round win. When Nathan Balch (Westerville, Ohio / Olentangy) hit a jumper from the right side, the Scots appeared to be in good shape with a 47-40 lead and 1:36 to play. Manchester mounted a quick comeback, though, first with a 3-pointer and then a pair of free throws to pull within two with 42.0 seconds remaining. A Wooster drive into the lane came up empty and the Spartans called timeout with 20.2 seconds on the clock. Manchester took a 3-pointer that was off the mark, but the visitors rebounded it with 2.1 ticks left. The Spartans' ensuing in-bounds play resulted in a deep 3-pointer from the left wing, which glanced off the left side of the rim, allowing the Scots to prevail in the defensive struggle. Franks was Wooster's lone player in double figures with 14 points, while Hallowell led the way in rebounding (9), assists (4), and blocked shots (3). Balch contributed nine points, as did freshman guard Ryan Snyder (Canton, Ohio / St. Thomas Aquinas).

A Rare Defensive Struggle: The Scots' 47 points in their NCAA second-round win marked their lowest output since a 46-43 loss to Wittenberg University Jan. 27, 1996, and it was their least amount of points during a victory in 26 seasons – 41-38 over John Carroll University on Dec. 1, 1984.

Also of note, in only three previous NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship games since the introduction of the shot clock (1985-86 season) has the winner scored less than 47 points – Virginia Wesleyan College beat William Paterson University 46-35 in a 2006 sectional championship, the University of Wis.-Stevens Point defeated the University of Wis.-Platteville 46-43 during 1997 second-round action, and the University of Rochester edged DePauw University 43-42 in the 1990 national championship game.

Conference Tourney Recap: The Scots won the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament, marking their third in a row and league-leading 13th out of a possible 27.

On Feb. 22, Wooster came back from a nine-point deficit (56-47) with 6:30 to play, limiting Allegheny College to just one point the rest of the way, as the top-seeded Scots pulled out a 62-57 victory to avert an upset at the hands of the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinal round. Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep) keyed the comeback, scoring five points and assisting on another field goal during a 9-1 spurt that pulled Wooster within one at 57-56. Nathan Balch (Westerville, Ohio / Olentangy) proceeded to give the Scots the lead on a jumper with a little more than 2:00 remaining, and then Allegheny had three possessions to retake the lead, but was unable to do so. Wooster closed it out with another bucket from Wickliffe on the inside that made it 60-57 with 15.5 ticks left, and after another Gator miss, Balch added two free throws. Overall, Wickliffe paced the Scots with 15 points, while Justin Hallowell (Columbus, Ohio / Thomas Worthington) controlled nine rebounds and Matt Fegan (Strongsville, Ohio / Strongsville) distributed a game-high six assists.

On Feb. 25, behind a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds from guard Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central), Wooster held off Ohio Wesleyan University 70-62 during the semifinals. The Scots never trailed the final 33 minutes, however, the outcome was in doubt up until the last 30 seconds. Ohio Wesleyan was within four points at 60-56 with 2:33 left before Wickliffe earned a trip to the charity stripe, dropping in both free throws. Neither team scored again until Franks worked his way to the line for two free throws and an eight-point lead (64-56), and the Battling Bishops never got closer than six the rest of the way. Franks' double-double was his third this season and sixth of his career, and Wickliffe added 12 points and eight boards.

On Feb. 26, Wooster knocked down a season-best 56.5 percent of its 3-pointers (13-for-23), paving the way for an 82-68 win over archrival Wittenberg University during the championship game. The Scots went up by as much as 16 (33-17) before settling for a 39-30 halftime cushion, but the Tigers mounted a comeback in the second, trimming a double-digit deficit down to four at 54-50. Then, Franks got hot, accounting for nine points of a 14-4 Wooster run, and the closest Wittenberg got again was 75-68 with 1:12 remaining, but the Scots made 7-of-8 free throws to seal another NCAC championship. Franks scored 25 points for the second night in a row, with 20 coming in the first half this time as he nabbed tournament MVP honors. Hallowell made 4-of-6 from 3-point range as part of a 19-point, eight-rebound, three-assist effort, and Balch scored 13.

Regular Season Recap: With three senior starters in guards Nathan Balch (Westerville, Ohio / Olentangy) and Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central) and post Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep), Wooster entered 2010-11 with even higher expectations than usual, including a No. 6 preseason ranking (D3hoops.com). The Scots have lived up to those and then some, as they opened up with a 20-game winning streak, marking the best start to a season in team history, and completed the regular season 23-2, with those two losses coming by a combined five points, and a No. 5 national ranking.

Starting on Dec. 7, Wooster held the No. 1 ranking for nine weeks, its longest stretch ever atop the poll. The Scots endured several close calls during their No. 1 reign, as eight of those 15 games were decided by single-digit margins. Three of the most notable were a 76-73 decision at Allegheny College Dec. 8 when Franks nailed a deep 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer to avoid overtime, a 79-77 affair with Baruch College on Jan. 2 that saw Wooster come back from a 75-71 deficit with about two minutes remaining (Baruch missed a pair of 3-point attempts on the final possession), and a 67-65 thriller at No. 7 Wabash College Jan. 8 when the Little Giants fought back from a late 12-point deficit (66-54) and got off a game-winning shot at the buzzer that was just off the mark. Wabash avenged that one and halted the Scots' 20-game win streak, as the then-No. 15 Little Giants battled to a 69-68 overtime victory on Feb. 5, locking it up when they stole the ball on the final possession.

Wooster's lone other loss also came at the hands of a nationally-ranked team, as then-No. 25 Wittenberg University limited the Scots to just four points the last eight minutes, part of a 15-4 run that keyed a 76-72 win Feb. 12 for the Tigers. Ironically, the archrivals' previous meeting played out in similar fashion, however, with the roles reversed. On Jan 22, Wooster overcame a 49-38 deficit with 8:59 remaining, closing the game with a 27-9 stretch to prevail 65-58 over Wittenberg.

Battle Tested: One theme of Wooster's season has been the team's ability to find ways to win close games. In fact, exactly half of the Scots' games, 16 of 32, have been decided by 10 points or less, and they're 14-2 in those.

Record-Setting Defense: Defense is always the focus of Steve Moore-coached teams, but this year's Wooster group has been performing better than most any before them, at least in terms of field-goal percentage. The Scots' current defensive field-goal percentage is .379, just fractions behind the school record of .378 set by the 1998-99 team. This will mark the eighth time in 16 seasons that Wooster limited the opposition under 40 percent shooting the ball.

Four 1,000-Point Scorers: With three players in their third season in the starting lineup, and a fourth who is a four-year stater, the Scots' combination of experience and offensive ability has resulted in a rare feat of four 1,000-point scorers on the same active roster. Three of them reached the milestone this year in seniors Nathan Balch (Westerville, Ohio / Olentangy) and Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep), and most recently, junior Justin Hallowell (Columbus, Ohio / Thomas Worthington). Balch is currently at 1,114 points and Wickliffe at 1,171, and Hallowell joined them in the NCAA second-round game, now with 1,039. Senior Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central) already had 1,000 at the start of the season, but he reached the 1,500 milestone in the regular season finale. Now with 1,650 points, he ranks fifth on the school's all-time scoring list and 13th in conference history.

Streaking: The Scots extended a pair of impressive streaks this season. Finishing first in the North Coast Athletic Conference during the regular season gave them a seventh consecutive NCAC championship, which now ranks two better than the previous mark of five set by the 1990-94 Wittenberg University teams.

Wooster, long ago (Feb. 3), extended its streak of consecutive 20-win seasons to 15, which ranks as the longest active in NCAA Div. III.

Strong Start: The Scots opened the 2010-11 campaign on a 20-game win streak, marking their best start to a season in school history. They almost caught the team record for longest winning streak overall of 22 during the 1991-92 campaign.

Leaving the Comforts of Timken: For the first time since Feb. 12, Wooster will be playing a game away from the familiar environment of 3,400-seat Timken Gymnasium. The Scots, who are 194-21 (.902) since the 1998-99 season, played their final two regular season games there, then three in the conference tournament, and four NCAA Tournament games.

Franks Among Scots' Greats: Senior guard Ian Franks (Greenwich, Ohio / South Central) is just the third in team history to score 1,500 career points (1,650) and distribute 300 assists (314), joining former Wooster greats Tom Port (2003-07) and Erich Riebe (1988-92). All the more impressive, when considering Franks saw very limited action as a freshman.

"Wick" Looking for Win No. 100: In games that senior forward/center Bryan Wickliffe (Columbus, Ohio / St. Charles Prep) has played the last four seasons, the Scots are 98-19 (.838). Also of note, with two more rebounds, Wickliffe, a four-year starter who missed just four games due to injuries during his career, would become the seventh player in school annals to record 1,000 points and 750 rebounds.

National Titles Tough to Come By: Despite a long and storied athletic history, which includes two national runner-up finishes for the baseball team (1997, 2009), the men's soccer team being a semifinalist (1977), and three top-five performances by the women's swimming team (1986, 1987, 2003), Wooster has only one NCAA Div. III team national championship in its trophy case – 1975 men's golf. While the men's basketball team is attempting to bring home team title No. 2, the Scots have had three swimmers earn individual national championships, including as recently as 2005 when Elizabeth Roesch captured the 1650 freestyle (17:03.70).