CLEVELAND -- “They’re baaaaaaaack!”
The College of Wooster men’s basketball team had to wait for an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III National Tournament, but the Fighting Scots were awarded a spot in the field for a record 16th consecutive season and will take on the Illinois Wesleyan Titans in a first-round matchup at the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center in University Heights, Ohio tonight.
“It’s always good to be playing in March, and after not getting the automatic bid, it was a great feeling to receive the news that we’re going to be able to continue our season and have another opportunity,” Wooster coach Steve Moore told WKYC.com in an exclusive interview.
Senior guard Spencer Williams added, “It’s the reason that I came here. I think the basketball tradition at Wooster is unparalleled. It’s incomparable to other schools. We know about the tradition and what we’re supposed to do, and we’re really excited to try and make a run at it.”
The 2017-2018 season started slowly for the Wooster men’s basketball team, but a strong finish earned the Fighting Scots (21-6) another at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Wooster began the year with a 3-3 record, but starting with a 91-70 victory over the Hiram Terriers in front of the home fans at Timken Gymnasium on December 6, the Fighting Scots rattled off eight straight wins. Then, after an 11-point loss to archrival Wittenberg, who qualified for the NCAA Tournament after winning the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament, Wooster won nine consecutive contests.
“We needed to get our chemistry together a little bit,” Williams said.
“We knew that we had all the pieces and confidence in ability. We got those losses early and we know we didn’t have that much time to get it together, so we were motivated and we just took it game-by-game. We couldn’t look too far ahead. We took it game-by-game, play-by-play.”
Williams (Warrensville Heights/Orange High School) leads the Fighting Scots with 16.8 points-per-game scoring average, while sophomore guard Danyon Hempy (Waldo, Ohio/River Valley High School) and junior guard Reece Dupler (Newark, Ohio/Lakewood High School) also averaged in double figures this season.
Out of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, Illinois Wesleyan earned an at-large bid after posting a 19-7 record despite having to compete against an Augustana team that played for the National Championship last March.
“I think we’re blessed and we’re fortunate to have this opportunity, but we’re not taking it for granted,” Williams said.
“All of the teams that make it this far are really good teams. We’re happy we made it here, but we’ve got some work to do and we’re hungry. We’ve got something to prove, especially since we didn’t win our conference tournament or were regular-season champs, so we feel we’ve got something to prove.”