No. 17 Wooster’s Remarkable String of NCAC Tournament Championship Game Appearances Ends at Nine as Battling Bishops Top Scots 88-87 in Overtime

Alex Baptiste
Alex Baptiste

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – Senior Alex Baptiste knocked down a pair of free throws to put the 17th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team up 87-86 with :09.8 remaining in overtime, but Ohio Wesleyan University's Nate Axelrod had the magical touch on an off-balance jumper with :05.1 to go that held up as the game-winner, and the Fighting Scots dropped a second one-point overtime heartbreaker within a week at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield, Ohio, this time 88-87 on Friday evening in the semifinal round of the 2018 North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament.

Wooster (21-6), which saw its remarkable run of consecutive conference tournament championship game appearances snapped at nine, now will need an at-large bid to qualify for next week's NCAA Div. III Championships. Should the Scots be extended a bid when the championship field is announced at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, it'll bump Wooster's Div. III record out to a 16th straight season in the national tournament.

Wooster had the last shot in regulation and overtime, but couldn't get a game-winning 3-pointer to fall each time.

Earlier in overtime, senior Spencer Williams fought hard for an offensive rebound and made the stick-back through contact. However, the guard didn't get the free throw to fall on the and-one play, which kept the score tied at 85 in the final :30.

Ohio Wesleyan's (19-8) Seth Clark, who scored a NCAC Tournament record 44 points, was followed on a drive to the bucket with :27 remaining, and he split the two free throws to bump Ohio Wesleyan back on top.

Clark's play ultimately played a major factor in the Ohio Wesleyan win as the senior nailed 11 3-pointers, seven of which came in the second half as the Battling Bishops overcame a 14-point deficit.

In the final 1:20 of regulation, Baptiste secured a key offensive rebound, but the Scots couldn't cash in on the second-chance opportunity. In fact, Williams nearly extended the possession even longer with a second offensive rebound, but the Bishops were able to tie the Scots' senior up long enough for a jump ball, and the possession shifted over to Ohio Wesleyan.

Upon gaining possession back, senior Ari Stern earned a trip to the foul line, where he split a pair of free throws to bump Wooster's lead to 78-75, but Axelrod came through again, this time with an old-school three-point play with :06.4 left in the regulation.

The Scots were on the verge of pulling away early in the second half as a 7-0 run had Wooster in front 52-41 with 18:00 left in regulation. During the run, Baptiste came away with a key steal, made a bucket on the break, and completed the three-point play.

Later, Williams went on a 6-0 scoring spree with his step-through off the glass, a nifty flip-up through contact, and a lay-in had Wooster primed with a 14-point lead at 62-48 and 14:36 left on the clock.

Clark took over from there as he made six of his seven second-half 3-pointers over the final 14:00 and change, while Axelrod chipped in one during the Bishops' comeback.

In the first half, Wooster raced out to a 9-0 lead with a combination of efficient offense and stifling defense. On the offensive end, Stern's determination led to a big early offensive rebound, and the guard followed with a successful stick-back.

Defensively Baptiste and junior Eric Bulic shut down the interior and forced the Battling Bishops' Grant Gossard into an early three-second call, and Baptiste and Williams logged a block each before Gossard slipped inside for Ohio Wesleyan's first bucket at the 15:27 mark.

Clark, who was limited early in the scoring column in both regular-season meetings, made his presence felt early by accounting for eight of the Bishop's first 15 points as OWU was within two at 17-15 at the 11:01 mark.

Ohio Wesleyan's Dawsin Tillman gave the Bishops' their first lead of the contest at 20-19 just before the 8:00 mark, but Wooster was up seven at 39-32 with 2:06 to go before thanks to great positioning by junior Blake Blair who was able to secure an offensive rebound and check-mated the put-back into the rim.

An Axelrod 3-pointer had the Bishops within two with :55 to go before halftime, but sophomore Danyon Hempy capped the first half with a 3-pointer.

Hempy led Wooster on the night with 23 points – 19 of which came in the first half. The sophomore was backed up in the scoring column by Stern, who upped his career-high in scoring to 18 thanks to a 5-8 night from the floor, including a 3-for-4 showing from beyond the arc.

Wooster finished with a 47-29 advantage in rebounding with Bulic leading the way there with 11.            

Axelrod chipped in 16 points to the winning effort.

In Friday's first semifinal, No. 6 Wittenberg (25-2) missed eight field goals in the second half as the Tigers pulled away from Denison University (15-12) during an eventual 97-73 win. Wittenberg, which led 43-42 at halftime, had two players score 23 points, including James Johnson, who was a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.