It was another typical Fighting Scot-Battling Bishop North Coast Athletic Conference men’s basketball matchup … close to the end.
Undefeated Wooster held off a late Ohio Wesleyan (4-2, 1-1) charge to escape an energized Branch Rickey Arena with a 79-71 victory Wednesday night before a gathering of 1,063 fans.
“A slow start hurt us,” OWU head coach Mike DeWitt said. “Wooster opened by playing good defense, forcing us to take shots we normally don’t take and and put us behind early. We fell behind by as many as 18 points in the second half, but we never quit. I was proud of the way we battled back to pull within seven of the lead late in the second half.”
The Bishops (4-2, 1-1 NCAC) played some defense of their own after falling behind 55-37 with 15:03 left in the contest, putting together a 28-17 run to close the gap to 72-65 on a layup by senior guard Taylor Rieger with three minutes remaining. Rieger’s bucket followed a blocked shot by 6-foot-7 senior post Reuel Rogers at the other end of the floor.
“We played some good defense late in the game,” DeWitt said. “We forced some turnovers, did a good job on the boards and hit some big shots, but forced to come back after falling behind early was too much to overcome.”
“Give Ohio Wesleyan credit, they battled back and made a run at the lead,” Wooster head coach Steve Moore said. “With the big lead, we tended to back off in the second half, and they took advantage. Hopefully we learned something from this game … and that’s to continue to play hard regardless of the score.”
The Fighting Scots (5-0, 2-0 NCAC), who lead the all-time series 95-52, sealed the victory at the foul line, converting on seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:18 to keep the Bishops at bay. Doug Thorpe, Wooster’s 5-foot-9 senior guard, cashed in on three of four attempts while 6-6 freshman forward Dan Fanelly was perfect in two trips to the line.
“Those were big,” Moore said of the free throws by Thorpe and Fanelly, which offset two inside baskets by Rogers and a layin by 6-1 senior wing Dre White.
Wooster jumped out to a 19-8 lead on back-to-back baskets by Thorpe with 11:37 left in the opening half. Ohio Wesleyan responded with 12-5 run thanks to Rieger’s 3-point play followed by a jumper from the top of the key which pulled the Bishops within 4 of the lead at 24-20 with 6:30 on the clock. But the Scots closed the half with a 15-7 run fueled by Xavier Brown’s 4 points to send Wooster into the half with a 12-point, 39-27 advantage.
Wooster opened the second half with a 16-10 to push the lead to 55-37 and set up the excitement-filled dash to the finish.
Thorpe led Wooster with 18 points, 5 assists and 2 steals. Fanelly backed Thorpe with 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Kenny DeBoer, the Scots’ 6-5 senior forward, added 13 points, converting 7 of 8 free throws, and 5 rebounds.
Ohio Wesleyan was led by Rogers, who matched Thorpe with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Freshman guard Seth Clark, an Olentangy High School product, followed with 17 points, 5 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 steals. White followed with 16 points on 8-for-14 shooting while Rieger, an Orange grad, finished with 10 points.
For the game, the Scots shot 51.1 percent (24-for-47) from the field, including 10-for-20 from behind the arc, and 80.8 percent (21-for-26) at the foul line. Wooster finished with 31 rebounds and 13 turnovers. The Bishops shot 44.1 (30-for-68) percent from the floor, 13.6 percent (3-for-22) in 3-point tries, and 42.1 percent (8-for-19) at the line. They pulled down 37 rebounds and turned the ball over 11 times.
Ohio Wesleyan returns to action Saturday, traveling to Granville for a 1 p.m. NCAC matchup with host Denison.