After several recent lights-out offensive performances, it was the 18th-ranked College of Wooster men's basketball team's defense that got the job done, as thanks to a far superior effort when it came down to steals and turnovers, the Black and Gold held off the Gators' upset bid to post an 81-72 victory at the David V. Wise Center in Meadville, Pa.
Wooster (15-3, 10-1 North Coast Athletic Conference) struggled at the onset against Allegheny's (7-10, 3-8 NCAC) two-three zone, and that enabled Caden Hinckley and Brian Roberts, Jr. time to lead the Gators on an 11-2 run.
That started to change when sophomore Dontae Williams charged inside for a layup, and junior Danyon Hempy ripped the ball away from Allegheny's Billy Urso. In transition, the Scots' leading scorer converted on the old-school three-point play.
Next, sophomore Keonn Scott's steal at the 13:49 mark led to Hempy finishing a transition layup in traffic, but Wooster was still catching up at that point, and trailed 13-9.
Wooster started to solve Allegheny's zone just before the 12-minute mark. That's when Hempy knocked down a three-pointer after junior Trenton Tipton's skip pass to start an 11-0 run. Scott hit a pair of mid-range jumpers to give Wooster its first lead of the night at the 10:58 mark, and Wooster led by five at 20-15 after Hempy's stick-back with 9:19 before intermission.
From there, Allegheny's offense featured a heavy dosage of Jordan Rawls, who scored 15 of his co-career-high 33 points during the final 7:44 of the half. Rawls, who banged home a trio of triples during that stretch, had the Gators on the verge of pulling away, as Allegheny led by as many as nine after Billy Urso connected from range with 3:05 to go.
"We looked at our possession chart at halftime, and in the first half, when Allegheny did not turn it over, there were only four possessions where they didn't score," said head coach Steve Moore. "It was a lot like that the second half too. I thought our defense played much better in the second half."
Hempy heated up with a pair of three-pointers to keep Wooster within striking distance, and that forced Allegheny to switch to man-to-man before taking a 41-37 lead into halftime.
"Danyon's three-pointers were a big part of the game there," summed up Moore. "We could've been down a lot more, so that was very important that we got it down to four there."
Williams took advantage of the Gators primarily playing man-to-man in the second half with a lay-in and 15-foot jumper before Dupler's steal and fast-break lay-in tied the game at 45 with 16:05 to go. Wooster was clicking in the team speed department, as freshman Khaylen Mahdi chased down an offensive rebound prior to Hempy knocking down the go-ahead jumper at the 15:14 mark.
After a brief stint in the zone, Allegheny switched back to man-to-man, and senior Eric Bulic made the Gators pay with an and-one that made it a five-point game with 10:52 left. Senior Reece Dupler upped the ante to 63-56 with a layup two possessions later.
Allegheny hung around and was within two at 68-66 with 5:59 to go after Roberts' layup, but Williams had his way with a pair of answer-back lay-ins. Sandwiched in between there was a fine defensive play, during which the sophomore stepped around his man, and was rewarded with the steal.
At the 4:30 mark, Dupler connected on a trademarked floater, while Hinckley couldn't get his footing after contesting the shot. He crashed into the Scots' senior, giving Dupler a chance for a three-point play, and that resulted in a subsequent 75-67 lead.
Wooster led by at least six the rest of the way.
Hempy's 25 points were back up by Williams' 20, with the latter connecting on eight of his 11 field goals to pair with seven rebounds.
"Dontae was really ready to go tonight," Moore said. "He had a big game. He played very aggressively and really wanted the basketball. He went up strong inside."
Dupler added 15 points and six boards, while Bulic led all players with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Wooster shot 42.5 percent (31-for-73) for the game, but only turned the ball over seven times, with the turnover discrepancy proving to be the ultimate tipping point in the game. The Scots tallied 12 steals, with the total tied for the second-most in league play this season.
Roberts scored 17 points to back up Rawls' efforts and snared seven rebounds while dishing out six assists. However, he accounted for nine of the Gators' 22 turnovers.
Hinckley, Rawls, and Lamar Todd had six boards each.
Allegheny shot 53.23 percent (24-for-45) for the game and was whistled for seven offensive fouls.
Next, Wooster hosts 11th-ranked, and league-leading, Wabash College (17-1, 11-0 NCAC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.