Tommy Hannon, Tyler Nicolai, Garrett Maloney, Anders Halvorsen, Peter Leslie and Zach Riedemann celebrate St. Thomas' 2011 Division III men's basketball national championship.
Photo by Chris Pesotski for D3sports.com
SALEM, Va. -- On Feb. 19, St. Thomas was trailing St. John's by 12 in the first half and as late as the final nine minutes of the game before rallying to beat its archrival 72-61. On March 19, eight games later, the Tommies finished an incredible run to the Division III men's basketball national championship, defeating Wooster 78-54.
It's the first national title for St. Thomas in men's basketball, the first title in the sport for any Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference team and it's the furthest west the men's basketball title has ever gone.
John Nance came off the bench to score 16 points, including two key 3-pointers and a 3-for-3 free-throw trip in a 28-2 run that put the Tommies up 36-16 with 5:31 left in the first half. Tommy Hannon added 16 on 7-for-8 shooting.
The Toms, who shot 54% from the floor, 18-of-20 at the foul line and had only nine turnovers, became the first conference men's basketball team to claim an NCAA championship.
The 24-point win tied a record for margin in a Division III men's championship game. UW-Stevens Point topped Rochester 73-49 in the 2005 final.
It's the 14th national team title for St. Thomas won by its seventh different sport. UST has previously won NCAA crowns in men's and women's cross country; women's basketball; men's indoor track and field; baseball; and softball.
Coach Steve Fritz's No. 8-ranked Tommies (30-3) beat four top-seven ranked teams in the last nine days of the season. The Tommies held the final three -- Augustana, Middlebury and Wooster -- under 60 points each.
St. Thomas won its last 12 games of the season and closed out an 8-0 postseason run. The Tommies improved to 20-0 in Saturday games over the last two seasons.
Wooster (31-3) trailed 43-26 at halftime, then fell behind by 20 as Alex Healy converted a three-point play. But the Scots used a 10-0 run to climb within 10 just minutes into the second half.
The Tommies answered with a 7-0 run and regained control, and
Wooster could never pull closer than 14 over the final 15:00. UST
had a 37-15 advantage in points off turnovers.
Wooster broke to an 11-2 lead but the Toms used hot outside shooting and pressure defense to counter with a 34-5 run for a 36-16 lead with 5:00 left in the first half. The Scots went 8:00 without a field goal. St. Thomas had only three turnovers and sank 7-of-10 3-pointers in the first 20:00.
The Tommies posted a 84-53 victory at Wooster in November 2009. On Saturday, they displayed a similar ability to use tempo and defense to puzzle the Scots.
Hannon converted 7-of-8 from the floor and added seven rebounds and five assists. Healy had 15 points and four assists; Nicolai closed with 11; Anders Halvorsen had 10; and Brady Ervin had six points, three assists and three rebounds off the bench. UST had a 24-12 edge in bench scoring.
Ian Franks had 22 points to lead the Scots, who had 18 turnovers and shot 41% from the floor. Wooster was outscored 24-12 from 3-point range.