March 19, 2011

Wooster Falls in National Championship Game to St. Thomas

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SALEM, Va. – The College of Wooster was unable to duplicate its magical comeback from the semifinals, as the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) bolted out to a 43-26 halftime lead in the national championship game and ultimately prevailed 78-54 to win the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Saturday afternoon at the Salem Civic Center.

It marks the end of the best season in Wooster's tradition-rich history, as the Fighting Scots won a school-record 31 games (31-3), both the North Coast Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships, and with five NCAA Tournament wins, advanced to the national title game for the first time.

After St. Thomas (30-3) started the second half with a three-point play for a 20-point lead (46-26), Wooster exploded for 10 quick points. Nathan Balch drained a 3-pointer from the right wing and then Ian Franks went to work with seven in a row – two free throws, an offensive put-back, and a drive to the right side of the lane that resulted in a three-point play with 17:39 remaining.

The Scots would not get any closer than that 10-point margin (46-36), though, as they couldn't muster a similar extended run like Friday's late 17-0 spurt that allowed them to turn a 63-46 deficit with 8:54 left into a 73-71 victory.

The Tommies responded to Wooster's 10-0 stretch with the next seven on the scoreboard, capped by Tyler Nicolai's 3-pointer from the right corner that made it 53-36.

The closest the Scots would get after that was 14 (57-43), when Doug Thorpe provided a spark off the bench, knocking down a 3-pointer from the left wing, still with more than nine minutes on the clock, however, St. Thomas accounted for the next six points (63-43) to essentially seal the outcome.

Wooster opened with an 11-2 start over the first five minutes, but the Tommies controlled the action for the rest of the first half as their aggressive defense helped lead to 11 Scot turnovers. The Tommies strung together an 11-0 run, finally halted by a pair of Bryan Wickliffe free throws with 10:05 remaining.

That put the score at 19-16 St. Thomas, and the Tommies were just getting started as they tacked on 17 unanswered points, starting with back-to-back 3-pointers by John Nance from nearly the identical spot on the left wing. Those were the third and fourth of seven consecutive 3-point makes by St. Thomas, and the seventh came from Nicolai as he completed a remarkable 28-2 stretch, which resulted in a 39-17 lead for the Tommies.

Wooster gained a little momentum when Franks hit a long two-pointer at the buzzer, ending what had been a 13-minute field goal drought.

The difference in the game was the Scots' 18 turnovers, which led to 37 St. Thomas points, compared to 15 in that category for Wooster. Also of note, the Tommies made 8-of-14 3-pointers (.571) and shot 54.2 percent overall from the field (26-for-48) to the Scots' 40.9 percent (18-for-44).

Franks paced all players in the scoring department with 22 coming on 8-of-13 field goals and 5-of-6 free throws, and he also tallied team highs of six rebounds and four assists. It wraps up a terrific career for the former jayvee player who developed into a two-time All-American, earning first-team honors from D3hoops.com and third-team status from the National Association of Basketball Coaches this weekend. Franks finishes as the program's fifth-leading scorer (1,696 points).

It also was the final game for fellow seniors Wickliffe, the team's 10th-leading rebounder (754) and No. 15 scorer (1,193 points), and Balch, who tied for 22nd on Wooster's all-time scoring list in just three seasons with the program (1,136 points).

Five St. Thomas players finished in double figures, highlighted by Nance, who tossed in 16 points, 11 more than his season average coming in (5.3 ppg). Tommy Hannon also contributed 16 and was awarded a spot on the all-tournament team, while the Most Outstanding Player award went to Nicolai.

Franks earned a spot on the all-tourney team as well.

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