Wooster's Comeback Bid Falls Just Short, as IWU Advances to Face Witt

Jalen Goodwin
Jalen Goodwin gets a step on John Koschnitzky of Illinois Wesleyan during Wooster's second-half comeback bid.

WOOSTER, Ohio – The College of Wooster dug out of a 17-point deficit early in the second half and had three late possessions when it could have taken the lead for the first time all game, but a mid-range jumper by Illinois Wesleyan University's Eliud Gonzalez broke a 67-67 tie with 18 seconds remaining and held up as the game winner, as the Titans advanced 69-67 into a sectional championship game of the NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship.

Illinois Wesleyan's opponent will be Wooster's archrival, Wittenberg University, which survived a last-second 3-point attempt by North Central (Ill.) College to prevail 58-55 earlier Friday evening inside Timken Gymnasium.

After trailing 44-27 a minute into the second half and by 59-46 at the 10:28 mark, Wooster (26-5), fueled by a 13-1 run, tied it at 64 with 3:39 remaining. Illinois Wesleyan (22-7) answered with 1-of-2 free throws, then the Fighting Scots came up empty on the next possession, and Victor Davis added a short jumper from the right side to put the Titans back up three (67-64).

Next, Justin Hallowell delivered a 3-pointer, assisted by Josh Claytor, from the top of the key to even the score (67-67) for a fourth and final time with 1:26 left.

Wooster followed with a defensive stop, but again was unable to go ahead as another 3-pointer was off the mark.

On what turned out to be Illinois Wesleyan's final possession, the shot clock was running down. Gonzalez, on the right wing, was able to get his defender in the air and then dribbled to the right baseline where he swished the open jumper.

The Scots threw the ball inside on their last offensive series, and after a missed shot and offensive rebound, earned a trip to the free throw line with 2.6 seconds on the clock. The first free throw was no good and the second one missed on purpose, with neither team controlling the ball as it was batted around as time expired.

The Titans scored the game's first eight points and were ahead by double figures at 16-6 and 18-8 before Wooster's first comeback. The Scots put together a 10-1 run, which included two 3-pointers by Evan Pannell, to tie it at 21. Shortly thereafter, Illinois Wesleyan regained the momentum as it closed the half on a 19-4 stretch in taking a 42-27 advantage.

Wooster's second-half surge was keyed offensively by Doug Thorpe. With the Scots down 13 (59-46), the sophomore guard accounted for nine points during an 18-5 rally, capped by his traditional three-point play that made it 64-64 and set up the exciting final 3:39.

Statistically, Wooster made 13-of-21 field goals the second 20 minutes to finish 49.0 percent overall (24-for-49), compared to 41.9 percent for the Titans (26-for-62). Due to 13 offensive rebounds and 15 Scot turnovers, Illinois Wesleyan was still able to score two more field goals, while all of the other numbers were pretty similar.

Claytor and Thorpe scored 13 points apiece, followed by Hallowell with 12 and Xavier Brown with 11. Claytor and Hallowell each collected seven rebounds and Jalen Goodwin dished four assists.

It marked the final game for Hallowell, who finishes tied for eighth in career scoring at Wooster with 1,491 points and as the North Coast Athletic Conference's record holder for career 3-pointers made (305). Guard Matt Fegan extended his NCAA Div. III record for career games played to 126, helping the Scots to 105 wins along the way (105-21), and defensive stopper Justin Warnes will also be sorely missed.

Davis paced the Titans with 18 points and Stephen Rudnicki provided a significant lift off the bench, making his first six field goals en route to a 13-point night.

Wittenberg (24-6) was down 32-30 at the half, then 39-30, and 45-37 before it put together a 14-2 run to take control. The Tigers never trailed during the final four minutes, and with it 58-55 and time ticking down, the best North Central (Ill.) could come up with was a well-defended 3-pointer from the left wing that hit off the glass and was rebounded by Wittenberg.

Zack Leahy scored a game-high 15 points for the Tigers, while Derek Raridon tallied 13 for the Cardinals.

Saturday's tip-off for the Illinois Wesleyan-Wittenberg game is set for 7 p.m.