Wooster Holds Off Benedictine (Ill.) Takes NCAA Opener 74-68

Justin Warnes
Justin Warnes sparked the Scots during the first half, including a nice move for this eventual basket.

WOOSTER, Ohio – The College of Wooster's 15-point lead early in the second half was eventually whittled down to three, but the Fighting Scots hung on for a 74-68 victory over Benedictine (Ill.) University in the teams' NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship first-round game Friday night at a raucous Timken Gymnasium.

Wooster (27-2) advances to face Manchester College (22-6), which, catapulted by a 15-0 start, defeated Bethany (W. Va.) College 70-58 earlier in the evening, on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Ahead 38-30 at halftime, the Scots dropped in the opening seven points of the second to open up that 15-point cushion. Benedictine (21-8), though, got right back in it via a 10-1 run, making the score a six-point margin of 46-40.

Wooster, which followed that early second-half spurt with just one field goal during a nine-minute stretch, then maintained a 5-to-8-point lead until, with seven minutes remaining, the Scots had a mini 5-0 run that saw Justin Hallowell knock down a 3-pointer and Bryan Wickliffe make a lay-up for a 58-48 advantage.

The Eagles had another run in them, as they quickly turned another 10-point margin (60-50) into a single-possession game with a 9-2 stretch, capped by Terry Licht's 3-pointer that put the score at 62-59 with about 3:30 left.

Ian Franks answered 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 seven-point cushion (66-59) at the 2:50 mark.

Licht came out of a timeout with another 3-pointer (66-62), and Benedictine had two possessions to edge even closer, but missed three well-defended shots from outside the arc. Eventually, Hallowell secured a defensive rebound and was fouled with 1:09 on the clock.

Hallowell made the first free throw, setting the tone for the final minute as Wooster secured the win with 8-of-9 free throws officially (another miss did not count because the shooter stepped over the line), and the Eagles never made it a one-possession game again.

Benedictine scored the contest's first six points and was ahead for the majority of the opening eight minutes before the Scots put together a 12-2 run that featured strong play from several of their reserves. Overall, Wooster's bench produced 17 points in the first half – six apiece from Ryan Snyder and Justin Warnes and five by Doug Thorpe.

For the game, Wooster's defense limited the Eagles to 31.7 percent shooting from the field (20-for-63) and the Scots finished at a .429 rate offensively (24-for-56). Wooster also held a 45-40 rebounding edge.

Hallowell led the way for Wooster with 19 points, including 4-of-8 3-pointers, and a career-high 15 rebounds. It marked his second double-double this season and the third of his career.

Franks added 16 points, keyed by 8-of-8 free throws, and a game-high five assists, while Wickliffe fell just one board short of a double-double (11 points, 9 rebounds).

Benedictine was paced by Nate Green's 15 points, Licht's 13, and Cameron Snelling's double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).

In the first game, Manchester held Bethany without a point for almost 10 minutes at the outset, and was later ahead 34-17, but went into the break up by just seven (34-27).

The Spartans had another strong start to the second half, constructing a 16-point lead (48-32) and then weathered another Bison run that saw them close to within seven a series of times before securing the 12-point victory.

The Spartans were keyed by Tyler Delauder's 23 points, which included 6-of-11 3-pointers, and Jason Spindler's double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds).

Saturday's Manchester-Wooster game will be a second-round battle between nationally-ranked teams, as the Scots are No. 5 in the D3hoops.com top-25 and the Spartans No. 21.

Admission will again be free for College of Wooster students, thanks to an underwriting by the president's office, and tickets for adults and senior citizens are $6 and $3 for all other students and children.