SALEM, Va. – Down 17 with 8:54 remaining, The College of Wooster mounted a furious comeback and reached the national championship game of the 2011 NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Championship when a lay-up by Williams College rolled off the rim at the buzzer, capping a 73-71 win for the Fighting Scots Friday evening inside the Salem Civic Center.
After two previous tries in the semifinals (2003 and 2007), this marks Wooster's first appearance in the title game, which will take place Saturday at 3:30 p.m., versus the winner of Friday's second semi between Middlebury College (28-1) and the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) (28-3).
With the score 63-46, Wooster (31-2) started what would become 17 unanswered points with eight quick ones over its next four possessions – a Bryan Wickliffe lay-up, followed by 3-pointers from Nathan Balch and Justin Hallowell. The latter pulled the Scots within single digits for the first time since the game's opening seven minutes as it was a nine-point deficit at the 6:25 mark.
The next trip down the floor for the Scots resulted in Ian Franks earning a trip to the free throw line and sinking both (63-56), and then Wickliffe stole the ball on the other end from Williams' point guard and was immediately fouled. Wickliffe dropped in both free throws (63-58). Another key play followed as Hallowell drew a charge, and then Franks went to work, hitting a jumper inside the paint with 5:07 on the clock (63-60).
That 17-point margin was trimmed to a one-possession game in less than four minutes, and Wooster's run wasn't over yet, as Franks buried a 3-pointer to tie it on the Scots' ensuing series, setting up a back-and-forth last 4:30.
Troy Whittington finally ended the Ephs' scoreless streak with a free throw, only to see the Scots take the lead two possessions later when a Balch jumper just inside the arc gave them their first lead of the game at 65-64.
Williams retook the lead on its trip down the floor, as Nate Robertson got a step past his defender and drove for a lay-up while being fouled. He made the free throw to give his squad a 67-65 lead.
Wooster came up empty on its next offensive set, but Franks made up for it by stealing the ball and transitioning it into a lay-up to tie game (67-67) with 2:43 left.
After a defensive stop, Balch gave the Scots what would be their largest lead by knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the key, forcing the Ephs into a timeout at the 1:53 mark.
Robertson responded with a tough driving lay-up on the left side, and following a Wooster miss, he was fouled in transition and sunk both free throws to give Williams the lead (71-70). Also of note, Franks picked up his fifth foul on the play, keeping him off the floor for the final 1:06.
The Scots went inside to Wickliffe, who drew a foul. He rolled the first free throw in and swished the second, putting Wooster ahead (72-71) for what turned out to be good.
Robertson attempted another drive, but his runner in the paint was off the mark this time, and Williams was forced to foul, sending Balch to the line at the 25.6 mark. His first free throw was too strong, the second was on line, but the Ephs had one last chance.
First, Wooster tied up Wang on a drive to the hoop with 8.3 seconds left, but the possession arrow stayed in Williams' favor. Off the ensuing in-bounds play, Wang had an open look at a 3-pointer from the left wing. It didn't fall, however, the Ephs would get one more chance with the rebound going off a Wooster player out-of-bounds.
With 2.0 remaining and another in-bounds play, Taylor Epley got free on the inside, but his lay-up did not go down, and the Scots mobbed each one another in a frenetic celebration at mid-court.
Williams had jumped out to an 11-2 lead, prompting a Scot timeout 3:26 into the action. The Ephs continued to own a sizeable advantage throughout the first half, including 42-28 at the break, and then they maintained it in double figures the opening 10 minutes of the second before extending it to 17.
Overall, Wooster was outshot 52.4 percent (22-for-42) from the field to 42.6 percent (26-for-61), but took advantage of 16 turnovers by Williams. The Scots scored 25 points off turnovers to the Ephs' five.
Franks led all players in scoring (24), rebounding (9), and assists (4), while Hallowell chipped in 18 points and eight boards. Wickliffe and Balch also reached double-digits with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Robertson paced Williams with 21 points.