The ninth-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team flipped the script in the second half behind an opening 19-2 run, which enabled the Fighting Scots to hold off host Denison University 73-63 on Wednesday evening at Livingston Gymnasium in Granville, Ohio.
Wooster (19-3, 14-1 North Coast Athletic Conference), which upped its winning streak to 12 games, found itself on the wrong end of a 34-29 contest at the break.
Senior Eric Bulic, who only played 3:33 in the opening half due to foul trouble, announced his presence with an old-school three-point play that tied the game at 34 with 19:04 to go. On the play, Bulic took advantage of the size differential when matched up with Denison's (6-15 3-12 NCAC) Matt Doyle battling for an offensive rebound. The forward had enough strength to put home the stick-back while tangled up and went on to knock down the free throw.
Junior Danyon Hempy and senior Reece Dupler, both of whom eclipsed 20 points, caught fire during the decisive 19-2 stretch. The biggest moment of the run was perhaps Dupler's theatrics at both ends of the court near the 17:30 mark. After Wooster turned the ball over, Denison's Connor Fenton was on the verge of having a fast-break opportunity, until he was chased down by Dupler, who swiped the ball away. Dupler used the momentum to go coast-to-coast, was bumped en route to finishing the layup, and after the and-one free throw, Wooster found itself up five.
Senior Trey Miller continued the fine hustle displayed by the Scots in the second half by getting to a loose ball for a steal, prior to Wooster upping its lead to 10. Doyle put a stop to Wooster's 15 unanswered points with a bucket with 17:01 remaining, but that marked the Big Red's lone tallies in the scoring column for the first 6:01 of the period.
Down the stretch, Wooster capitalized on several Denison miscues, including when Bulic's steal and subsequent assist to sophomore Keonn Scott on the runout opened up a 55-45 lead with 10:31 to go.
Just over a minute later, Dupler's third swipe of the night led to a give-and-go with junior Trenton Tipton, with the senior's lay-in upping the Scots' edge to 59-47 in advance of the nine-minute mark.
Hempy's drive with 6:12 left in the first half marked the beginning of the Scots turning the corner in the game. On that play, Dupler screened out his man, opening up a lane for Hempy to get to the rim. While, Wooster still trailed at that point 24-17, the Scots went on to finish the half 7-for-12 from the field, starting with Hempy's make, after opening the game 5-for-22.
Dupler twice pulled the Scots within three in the final minute of the opening half before Doyle snuck in a buzzer-beater to bump the Big Red's lead out to 34-29 at the break.
Speaking of Dupler, the senior poured in a game-high 26 points, two shy of his career-high. The senior's night included an 8-for-9 showing at the charity stripe, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
Hempy backed that up with 24 tallies in the scoring column. The junior snared five rebounds to pair with a 6-for-7 ledger at the free throw line.
Wooster fared much better in the second half by canning 14-of-25 field goals, which equated to 56 percent. That heated up the game percentage to 44.1 (26-for-59).
Doyle paced Denison with 14 points, while Matt Gerics and Jake Livingston chipped in with 11 each. Doyle was the high man in the rebounding column for Denison with eight, but he was one-upped for the game high by Bulic's nine.
Denison finished at 45 percent (27-for-60) from the field while also chalking up 19 turnovers.
Wooster's win, coupled with DePauw University's (15-7, 9-6 NCAC) 94-79 victory over No. 18 Wabash College (18-4, 12-3 NCAC), pulls the Scots two games ahead of the Little Giants in the race for first-place with three league games remaining.
Next, Wooster hosts Wittenberg University (17-5, 11-4 NCAC) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 for the 118th all-time meeting between NCAA Div. III's two winningest programs.