And then there was one.
Ben Simpson, Nate Axelrod and Seth Clark combined for 46 points as the Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball team outscored Wooster 51-34 in the second half of an 81-72 victory Saturday afternoon at Branch Rickey Arena. The win puts the Battling Bishops in sole possession of first place in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
OWU was two games behind first place after it dropped back-to-back games to Denison and Wooster, which handed the Bishops (17-6, 14-2) their worst loss of the season in a 23-point drubbing Jan. 7.
“Quite honestly, I hadn’t seen the extra level of competitive toughness that some of our teams have had over the last five or six years,” coach Mike DeWitt said. “But, I saw it (Saturday) and, from my standpoint, it was just fun to see.”
Since, OWU has strung together 10 straight victories, including a win over Denison 10 days ago that moved it into a three-way tie for first.
“Coach reminded us that we can control our destiny … we can’t really control what other teams do, but we can control what we do,” Clark said. “So, if we work hard and keep winning, all we can do is see what happens.”
The Fighting Scots handed Denison its third straight loss a week ago to set up Saturday’s battle for first. And it did not disappoint.
“Coach reminded us about what (Wooster) did to us at their place,” Clark said. “We didn’t want that to happen. With it being Senior Night, it lit a fire under us and we really wanted to come out here and get this win for them.”
OWU, which lives and dies by the three-pointer, struggled to find its touch in the first half to the tune of five threes in 19 attempts.
In turn, the Scots led for all but 2:37 and was aided by a 7-0 run to close the half ahead 38-30.
“Offensively, we were just over-penetrating — trying to do too much — and we were just missing open shots,” DeWitt said. “The message at halftime was to just keep shooting and play with confidence.”
Shooters gotta shoot, and OWU knocked down eight of its first 12 attempts to start the second half, including threes on back-to-back possessions by Simpson to give OWU a 47-44 lead with 14:51 remaining.
“We came out and hit two threes right away and we were just confident,” Axelrod said. “We were all confident shooting our shots, and when that happens, it’s tough to beat us.”
Spencer Williams knocked down a jumper to finally put Wooster back on top at 66-65 with 5:12 left, but it was brief. Axelrod answered with a three 13 seconds later to put the Bishops ahead to stay.
Simpson scored a game-high 25 points — 20 in the second half, including all four of this three-pointers. He finished with six rebounds and four blocks.
Axelrod also knocked down four triples in the second half to finish with five overall on his way to 24 points and five assists.
Clark added 17 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and finished with a pair of steals.
“We needed guys to step up and, not only make shots, but be willing to shoot them,” DeWitt said. “I thought Nate, Seth and Ben all stepped up and just did a really good job of putting their will on the game … they weren’t going to be denied.”
Wooster, which had its 10-game winning streak snapped, had put points up in bunches, scoring 90 or more points in five of its previous seven games.
“I thought at halftime our defense was pretty good,” DeWitt said. “To hold them to 38, with the exception of a few mistakes, we played pretty well.”
Dan Fanelly led the Scots (16-7, 13-3) with 21 points and pulled down four rebounds, Reece Dupler had 19 points and six rebounds, Williams added 17 points, five rebounds and three assists and Eric Bulic led with eight rebounds and two blocks.
OWU can clinch at least a share of the league title – a third straight – with a win at Wittenberg Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.
“Every year, we set a goal of winning a conference championship,” Axelrod said. “We’ve got two more on the road and we have to step up and win those.”
Freshman Claire Sterling scored 10 of her career-high 15 points during an 18-0 second-quarter start as the Ohio Wesleyan women’s basketball team blew it open on its way to a 75-47 victory over Wooster in NCAC action Saturday afternoon at Branch Rickey Arena.
The Bishops (10-13, 6-7) never trailed, using a 9-0 run in the first quarter to gain control at 12-3 on a Nicole Popovich layup, a Sterling three-pointer and four Megan Kuether free throws. OWU led 19-12 at the end of one.
Sterling assisted on a jumper by Popovich, converted a three-point play and knocked down a three to start an 18-0 run to blow the game open. The Bishops led 43-24 at the break.
OWU outscored Wooster 18-6 in the third, ballooning the lead to 61-30, and extended it as high as 34 on a Taylor Dickson bucket to start the fourth.
OWU honored seniors Dickson and Kuether before the game. Kuether led the Bishops with 18 points and six assists to go with five rebounds. Dickson finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Bishops coach Stacey Ungashick Lobdell was fighting back tears as she talked about the two seniors after the game.
“They’ve turned into great leaders, number one,” she said. “They really, truly understand what being a great teammate is, and then passing it on.”
Popovich, a freshman, backed the effort with a career-high 13 rebounds to go with 10 points in her first career double-double. Popovich is averaging 9.3 rebounds over the last three games.
Sterling had seven rebounds and Hallie Sinko had five for the Bishops, who outrebounded Wooster 57-35.
“The thing I love most about (Popovich and Sterling) is that they’re coachable,” Ungashick Lobdell said. “That’s why they’re playing the way that they’re playing and we’re getting the performance out of them at the end of the season.”
Akwia Tilton had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead the Fighting Scots (2-21, 1-13) and Rachel Collins added 10 points and four rebounds. Anna Gibbs led with four assists.
OWU continues league action Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at home against Wittenberg.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.