Holland, Mich., March 3, 2017 – The No. 9-ranked Washington University in St. Louis men's basketball team overcame a 15-point second half deficit to defeat Ripon College 87-72 in the NCAA Division III Tournament First Round in the DeVos Fieldhouse at Hope College.
WashU improved to 21-5 with the win, while Ripon concluded its season with a 20-6 overall record. The Bears take on No. 18 Hope the second round Saturday at 7 p.m. (ET) after the Flying Dutchmen defeated University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 87-85 in the first round.
"We certainly did it the hard way and that's a great tribute to Ripon," said WashU head coach Mark Edwards. "They played their game and got after us defensively. They hit some big shots and made us play basketball in the second half. In tribute to our guys, we did."
Senior Clinton Hooks finished with a career-high seven three-pointers en route to a season-high 25 points as four Bears exceeded double figures. Juniors Andrew Sanders (23), Matt Highsmith (20) and Kevin Kucera (10) all reached double digit point totals while Kucera also totaled 11 assists for a double-double.
Kucera had 11 assists without a single turnover as junior Jake Knupp followed along with six dishes and zero turnovers. The Bears collectively finished the game with 21 assists compared to six turnovers, while forcing Ripon into nine turnovers compared to five assists.
The Bears trailed 42-27 after the first half of play when Ripon hit 50 percent from the floor (15-30). In the second half, WashU shot 70 percent from the field (21-30) while holding the Red Hawks to 37.5 percent (12-32) on its way to outscoring Ripon 60-30.
Hooks scored eight of the Bears first 16 points in the second half to help WashU cut the first half deficit to single digits. The Red & Green slowly chipped away at Ripon's advantage before six straight points by Highsmith evened the score at 65-65 with five minutes to play.
The Red Hawks' leading scorer Ty Sabin put Ripon ahead with a layup but Highsmith evened it up once again with his eighth straight point for the Bears. WashU took its first lead, since the 13:53 marker in the first half, on the next possession. Hooks secured a defensive rebound before Kucera brought the ball up the court to find Hooks open in the corner for a triple.
WashU would not relinquish the lead as the offensive exploded with a 20-5 run to end the game. Hooks made multiple threes down the stretch while Sanders and Highsmith worked the ball in the basket down low. WashU quickly expanded its lead to more than 10 and scored its last basket on a dunk by Highsmith, ultimately defeating Ripon 87-72.
Junior David Schmelter won the game's opening tip and senior Michael Bregman put the Bears ahead with a midrange jumper less than thirty seconds into the action. Hooks knocked down a three on the Bears next possession to expand the Bears lead to five points.
The Red Hawks sank a three-ball of their own before Kucera dished the ball to Hooks for another triple with 17:43 remaining which gave WashU an 8-3 advantage.
Sanders made the next three baskets for WashU and helped the Bears to a 14-10 lead but the Red Hawks went on an 8-0 run following a media timeout. Highsmith entered the Bears lineup and scored two quick baskets to knot the game back up at 18-all but Ripon's Sabin, Division III's leading scorer, heated up with 25 first half points. The Red Hawks led 42-27 after one half of play.
"We took it one possession at a time," said Hooks. "Every time we had the ball, we tried to get a good shot. Every time they had the ball we tried to make them take a contested shot, and make sure we get the rebound. It's a great formula to win and swung the game our way in the second half."
Sabin finished with a game-high 43 points, while Isaac Masters contributed 11 for the Red Hawks. After Sabin shot 9-of-13 in the first half WashU held him to 7-of-21 in the second half.
BEAR NOTEBOOK: WashU and Ripon met for the first time time in school history as the Bears secured an 87-72 victory… The Bears made their 20th NCAA Division III Tournament appearance, and now have a 33-17 (.660) record… WashU played its first NCAA road game since the 2009 national championship… Sanders has scored in double figures in 24 of 26 games played and exceeded 800 in his career during the first half of play… Sabin leads NCAA Division III in scoring at 30.2 points per game… The Bears are 9-0 this season and have won their last 11 games played on Fridays… WashU is 11-1 away from home this season, and its 11 wins on its opponents' home floor this season are second most in NCAA Division III.