A barnburner atop the NCAC

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Alex LaLonde led a deep scoring attack as the Scots survived a shootout.
Photo courtesy Wooster Athletics

By Greg Chandler

With six games remaining before the conference tournament, the NCAC men's basketball race is now a two-team battle between traditional powers Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan.

The Scots pulled even with the Battling Bishops last Wednesday in front of 2,162 fans at Timken Gymnasium with a dramatic 91-90 victory. With time running out and his team down by one, sophomore guard Spencer Williams drove the length of the court and was fouled just before his runner went through the basket. The basket was waved off, but Williams coolly sank both free throws with 0.7 seconds remaining to give Wooster the win.

Wooster built up an 11-point first half lead at 31-20, but OWU made eight of its last nine field goal attempts to whittle the Scots' lead to 44-42 at the half.

The second half was a back-and-forth affair with 10 ties and 10 lead changes, with the lead changing hands six times in the last 3:07 of the game. Ohio Wesleyan took the lead at 90-89 with 4.9 seconds remaining after Claude Gray hit two of three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt. That set the stage for Williams' dramatic dash and subsequent free throws.

"It was an offensive game for the most part. Ohio Wesleyan is so difficult to defend," Wooster coach Steve Moore said. "Their offensive numbers were really good. Fortunately, we were able to shoot well and score efficiently."

Ohio Wesleyan actually shot better from the field at 49.2 percent, compared to Wooster's 47.5 percent. However, the Scots were better at the line, knocking down 24-of-31 (77.4 percent) compared to the Bishops' 18-of-27 (66.7 percent).

"Wooster is a very good basketball team, especially at home," OWU coach Mike DeWitt said. "It was a great game that came down to the last possession."

Alex LaLonde led four Wooster players in double figures with 23 points, while post player Josh Kipler had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Williams had 15 points. Reece Dupler had 14 points in his first career start. Seth Clark and Matt Jeske led Ohio Wesleyan with 18 points each. Nate Axelrod added 17 points and dished out 10 assists, while post player Ben Simpson had 16 points.

Ohio Wesleyan bounced back from the Wooster loss with a record-setting performance on Saturday, pummeling Hiram 123-95. The Bishops set Branch Rickey Arena records for most points in a game and most three-point baskets with 19. The scoring, as usual, was well-distributed for OWU, with six players in double figures. Clark and Simpson each scored 18 to lead the Bishops, while Gray added 15. Meanwhile, Wooster kept pace with a 90-66 romp over Wabash, shooting 53 percent from the field. Dan Fanelly led the Scots with 18 and Williams added 17.

"We were very concerned about a letdown. It's human nature when you have an emotional win like we did Wednesday, to have a letdown, a satisfied feeling," Moore said. "Our players fought that off and played very well at the beginning of the (Wabash) game."

Heading into this week, the Scots and Bishops are both 10-2 in the NCAC, with the two teams having split their regular season matchups. DeWitt believes the final three weeks of conference play will be tough for both teams.

"I don't think Wooster or Ohio Wesleyan will finish the season without another loss, because of how deep our conference is," DeWitt said. "It's going to be a very interesting three weeks."

"We need to continue to improve and not be satisfied with what we've done so far. We need to continue to develop our depth. We do need to get better defensively."

Hope downs struggling Calvin in MIAA rivalry game

Most years, the MIAA men's basketball race comes down to the matchup between traditional rivals Hope and Calvin.

This year, the Flying Dutchmen are in the thick of the race, chasing surprising Alma, but the Knights are struggling through one of their toughest seasons in recent memory. But Calvin came to play last Wednesday, getting off to a strong start in front of 3,367 fans at Hope's DeVos Fieldhouse.

With senior leader Jordan Daley scoring inside and 6-7 forward Cam Denney stroking threes from the outside, Calvin built up a 23-15 lead. But Hope senior Ben Gardner, who scored 23 points, led a Flying Dutchmen rally that cut the Knights' lead to 30-29 at the half.

Hope then opened the second half with a 10-0 run to take the lead, and overcame foul trouble to both Gardner and 6-8 center Brock Benson down the stretch to defeat Calvin, 75-67, to stay one game in back of Alma.

"We understand it is not a beauty contest. We just grind it out," Hope coach Greg Mitchell said. "We have to win on toughness."

Hope, which followed the Calvin win with a 74-66 road win at Albion Saturday, got strong play in the second half from All-MIAA forward Harrison Blackledge (12 points) as well as reserves Sam Otto and Keith Brushwyler to keep Calvin at bay.

The Knights, who also lost Saturday to Trine, 80-67, are now mired in sixth place in the MIAA at 3-5 in the conference and 8-11 overall. Daley led Calvin with 27 points against Hope and Denney added 18.

"We're at the point of the season where we've got to play with our backs against the wall," Daley said.

Rose-Hulman deals Bluffton women first setback

Rose-Hulman tightened things up in the HCAC women's standings by dealing Bluffton its first loss of the season on Saturday, downing the Beavers 57-50 in Terre Haute.

The Fightin' Engineers (10-2 HCAC, 16-3 overall) used a strong defensive effort, holding Bluffton to 38 percent shooting from the field and 0-of-10 from three-point range for their 11th straight win, pulling them within a game of the Beavers (11-1, 18-1) in the conference race.

Sophomore Alyzia Dilworth led a balanced Rose-Hulman attack with 13 points, while freshman sisters Abby (11) and Ally Bromenschenkel (10) combined for 21 more points.

Big Red stand tall in NCAC

Denison seized control of the NCAC women's race by avenging its only conference loss of the season and completing a rare sweep of traditional powerhouse DePauw.

The Big Red ran their winning streak to 10 games by downing DePauw, 61-49, and then coming from behind to defeat Wittenberg, 60-47. Witt was the last team to defeat Denison, back on Dec. 12 in Springfield. At 10-1 in conference play, Denison now leads DePauw and Kenyon by two games in the NCAC.

Junior center Jordan Holmes continued her dominance inside for Denison, scoring 21 points, pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking six shots against DePauw. She now has 16 double-doubles this season and 12 games in which she has blocked six or more shots. Valesha Province came off the bench to score 13 points in 22 minutes of action.

In the Wittenberg victory, Kellie Arter hit four 3-point baskets on her way to a 14-point effort to lead the Big Red, while Holmes grabbed 18 boards.

Defense never rests as Penn State Behrend rolls through AMCC

Penn State Behrend boasts one of the toughest defenses in Division III men's action, and that defense was on display last week as the Lions defeated Pitt-Bradford and Penn State Altoona to maintain their top spot in the AMCC.

The Lions, who allow just 59.4 points per contest to rank third in the nation, downed Pitt-Bradford 74-58, then had their second-best defensive showing of the year in a 71-44 romp over PSU Altoona. PSU Behrend, which has now won 13 straight and is 17-1 on the season, cracked the D3hoops.com Top 25 men's poll this week at No. 23.

Freshman guard Andy Niland had a game in the win over Pitt-Bradford, pouring in 26 points, including four three-point baskets.

Shoutouts

Senior guard David Linane has been the floor general for the unbeaten and OAC-leading Blue Streaks of John Carroll all season long. Linane had perhaps his strongest week of the season last week, scoring 27 points in a 95-78 victory over Heidelberg and adding 21 points, seven boards and five assists in an 84-73 win over Ohio Northern. He's averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 assists while playing about 22 minutes a game. JCU is now 12-0 in the OAC and 19-0 overall.

Anderson freshman Stanley Duncan was on fire last week in leading the Ravens to HCAC wins over Defiance and Transylvania. The Evansville, Ind. native scored 62 points, shot 82 percent from the field (18-of-22) and an incredible 87 percent on 3-point tries (13-of-15) as Anderson defeated Defiance, 81-78, and Transylvania, 103-83, to run its winning streak to five. Duncan earned HCAC men's Player of the Week honors. Duncan had 33 points, including eight triples, against Defiance and 29 versus Transy.

Hope senior center Maura McAfee had a monster week in leading the No. 4 Flying Dutch to a pair of MIAA wins. She scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a 76-55 win over Olivet, then set another career best with 17 boards to go along with 13 points in a 73-53 victory at Adrian. McAfee, who is this week's MIAA women's Player of the Week, is now Hope's career rebounding leader with 955, breaking a 21-year-old record.

Muskingum freshman Jarrell Marsh did all he could to keep the Muskies in their game with Marietta last Wednesday. Marsh scored 41 points, including five 3-pointers, and grabbed nine rebounds in a losing cause as Marietta won a wild one, 108-97. Marsh's performance was offset by three Pioneers who each went over 20 points.

Denison's Darius White became the Big Red's all-time men's three-point career leader, hitting six triples in a 69-59 win over Wittenberg. White now has 215 career three-pointers.

Ohio Northern's Amy Bullimore had a big-time performance in the Polar Bears' 72-69 win over a gritty Otterbein contingent. Bullimore scored 25 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, as ONU extended its OAC lead to two games.

Wilmington's Brittaney Jefferson scored 22 points as the Quakers upended Capital, 64-56, dropping the Crusaders two games behind OAC women's leader Ohio Northern. Jefferson, who was this week's OAC Player of the Week, matched that output three nights later in a losing cause as Wilmington fell to Heidelberg, 74-66.

Franciscan's Iliana Gonzales recently topped the 1,000-point mark for her career. The senior guard is averaging just under 20 points per game, and was huge a couple of weeks ago with a 28-point performance as the Barons upset AMCC leader LaRoche, 76-69.

Around the Great Lakes was written by Greg Chandler during the 2015-16 season. He is a veteran journalist and broadcaster who has followed Division III basketball for more than 25 years. He has called Hope basketball for radio, including the 2006 national championship run, and served as the first publicist for the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.


Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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2015-16: Greg Chandler