|by Brent Harris • February 28, 2009|
The 2009 North Coast Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship game started and finished with a flurry of three-point baskets, but in the end the College of Wooster hit the final shots in an 84-72 win over Wabash.
The Scots, playing in front of their home crowd as the top seed in the tournament, fired home 11 treys in the contest, but were matched shot for shot by Wabash. Chase Haltom led the Little Giants with 20 points, including six three-pointers. Wes Smith added 18 points, while Dominique Thomas came off the bench to connect on four three-pointers and a total of 16 points. Ben Burkett tossed in 14. Smith and Haltom each earned a place on the All-Tournament Team with their efforts.
Wabash, playing in the conference's title game for the second consecutive season, could find no answer for the offensive output of Wooster freshman Justin Hallowell. The rookie went 6-of-9 from three-point range and 10-of-13 from the field overall for 33 points to earn Tournament MVP honors. Joining him on the All-Tournament Team was Ian Franks, who scored 18 points. Dustin Geitgey added 11, while Bryan Wickliffe scored 10.
Wickliffe gave the Scots the early lead with an early basket that followed a jump shot by Geitgey to put Wooster up 4-0. The three-point barrage followed shortly after by both squads. Haltom drilled the first of five first-half treys, only to be answered by Hallowell at the other end. The two would trade long range shots for the entire period. Wooster eventually took a five-point lead on free throws by Wickliffe with five minutes left in the half before Wabash closed with a 5-0 run on a basket by Burkett and a final three from Haltom for a 38-37 score at the break.
The Little Giants took their first lead of the game when Andrew Gilman made a back-door cut for an easy layup to put Wabash up 41-40 in the first minute of the second period. A jumper by Smith pushed the lead to three points, which would prove to be the largest of the game for Wabash. The two teams battled back and forth over the next five minutes with Thomas, Smith, and Burkett providing most of the offense for Wabash, while Hallowell continued his sharp-shooting from outside and on the drive. The Scots eventually posted a six-point lead with 12 minutes left in the contest.
Wabash quickly trimmed the lead to one point on a three-pointer and a layup by Smith. The Scots raced out to another six-point lead moments later, only to see Smith and Thomas cut it back to one again. Smith three-pointer pulled Wabash even at 65-65 before an 11-2 Wooster run put the Scots up nine with three minutes left.
The Little Giants were forced to foul to stop the clock over the final 1:16 of the game, stretching the final deficit to 12 points in a game that proved to be much closer throughout the contest.
The loss ended the Wabash season with a 14-13 record, while Wooster earned the NCAC's automatic berth to the upcoming NCAA Division III Tournament with a 22-6 record. The Little Giants also became the first number-six seed to play for the conference title.