WOOSTER, Ohio – The 16th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team rallied back from a 15-point second-half deficit to top visiting Kenyon College 81-79 on Wednesday evening at Timken Gymnasium, and in doing so set the stage for a Saturday night showdown at fifth-ranked Wittenberg University with North Coast Athletic Conference championship on the line. In addition, Wooster's win extended its streak of 20-win seasons out to remarkable 22nd consecutive year.
Wooster (20-4, 14-3 NCAC) received the help it needed from Ohio Wesleyan University (15-9, 10-7 NCAC) as the Battling Bishops upended the Tigers (22-2, 15-2 NCAC) 85-80 earlier on Wednesday night. Wooster will be in search of its league-leading 18th conference crown, while Wittenberg is guaranteed at least a share of the league crown.
The Scots win also keeps Wooster tied with Duke University for the second-longest active streak of consecutive 20 win seasons as Duke picked up its 20th victory of the season on Sunday over Georgia Institute of Technology. Kanas University won its 20th game of the season last night over Iowa State University and the Jayhawks have now won 20 or more games in 29 straight years.
Sophomore Danyon Hempy, who scored a career-high 30 points – 24 of which came in the second half – tied the game at 69 with 2:32 remaining as the Scots outscored the Lords (7-17, 4-13 NCAC) 29-14 over the previous 9:38. Just before Hempy's game-tying bucket, the sophomore spun around on the perimeter and had a step on a pair of Kenyon defenders to pull Wooster within two with 3:15 remaining.
Sticking with Hempy, the sophomore ultimately put the Scots on top when senior Ari Stern found the open sharp-shooter for the open 3-pointer to make it 72-71 with 1:20 left on the clock. In fact, that led to a 7-0 Wooster run, and Hempy was at it again on the tail end, this time poking the ball away from Kenyon's Matt Shiftin, and slamming home a dunk to make it 76-71 with :32.3 to go.
Wooster led by as many as six in the final 30 ticks, but a 3-pointer by Ben Stern knocked the Scots' edge back down to one possession with just under :10.0 remaining. At the other end of the floor, Hempy canned both free throws to extend the lead back out to five before Phillip Crampton nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Junior Blake Blair, who also had a career night with 20 points, drilled a 3-pointer at the 12:02 mark to start the spirited comeback effort, but Kenyon did bump its lead back out to 13 on an old-fashion three-point play by Crampton that made it 58-45 at the 10:38 mark.
A Hempy 3-pointer trimmed the Lords' edge down to single digits with 9:48 to go, and a block by the sophomore on the other end of the floor was cashed in by senior Spencer Williams, whose lay-in cut into the deficit further and had the Scots within seven at 60-53 with 9:14 to go.
Hempy eventually pulled the Scots deficit back down to single digits with a jumper at the 7:54 mark and Wooster kept chipping away until Hempy's buckets in the final 2:32.
In the first half, neither team came out of the gate strong in terms of shooting percentage, but Kenyon heated up just before the 5:00 mark as the Lords made seven straight field goals at one point late in the first half, with Will Sigl capping the stretch to put Kenyon up 33-24 with 1:46 to go before halftime.
Kenyon's hot shooting carried over to the second half as the Lords canned 8-of-11 3-pointers in the stanza, and for the game Kenyon shot 65.0 percent (13-for-20) from beyond the arc.
Hempy accumulated his points on 11-for-18 shooting, which including a perfect 6-for-6 showing at the charity stripe. Noteworthy, the sophomore's now made 26 straight free throws, and his last miss came in the first meeting of the year between these two teams back on Jan. 17. The guard added three blocked shots and three steals in the game.
Blair knocked down 5-of-8 from the field, and he was also perfect at the line at the night with a 7-for-7 outing. The junior finished two rebounds shy of a double-double.
Junior Reece Dupler's bucket with 18:21 left in the game marked the guard's 1,000th career point, and he's the 43rd player in the tradition-rich program's history to reach that milestone.
In the first half, Williams' layup with 1:35 remaining marked the senior's 400th point of the season, and he's the seventh Scot to have three 400 point seasons during his career.
Shifrin, who went 6-for-9 from beyond the arc paced Kenyon with 23 points.
Saturday's contest will mark the 116th all-time meeting between Wooster and Wittenberg, and it'll be the first time since March 1, 2014 that both teams have entered the game ranked in the D3hoops.com Top 25. In that game, then-eighth-ranked Wooster topped 22nd-ranked Wittenberg 71-63 in the NCAC Tournament championship game.