ASHLAND — Defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champ Wooster isn’t ready to relinquish its crown.
The Generals built a comfortable first-half lead, saw it slip away in the third quarter, then rallied in the fourth for an entertaining 78-75 win over upstart Ashland on Tuesday at Arrow Arena.
Wooster (3-0, 3-0) outscored Ashland (6-2, 2-1) 32-23 in the fourth quarter, erasing a 52-46 deficit. Senior guard David Nolen scored 13 of his 21 points in the final period.
“Going into the fourth quarter, I just knew I had to get going. I just felt I needed to get us going,” said the 6-foot-2 Nolen, who came in averaging 18 points a night. “I just wanted to get to the rim and get fouled and not settle for too many 3s.”
Nolen’s layup with 4:31 remaining tied the game at 58-58. His 3-pointer with 1:36 remaining gave the Generals a 69-63 lead, but Ashland’s Grayson Steury knocked down an off-balance 30-footer with 1:02 to go to cut Wooster’s lead to 71-66.
An Eli White triple with 32 seconds left made it 73-69. Steury was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 12 ticks remaining, hitting two of three free throws to make it 76-73.
The Generals turned the ball over on their ensuing possession and Chase Hunt scored his only bucket of the night to make it 76-75 with just seven seconds remaining.
Ashland was out of timeouts and the Generals let the clock tick inside four seconds before inbounding the ball to Jack Williams, who was fouled with less than a second remaining. Williams hit both ends of the one-and-one to seal the deal.
“This was an up-and-down, rollercoaster ride of a game,” Wooster coach Michael Snowbarger said. “It was almost like who is going to make the last run and fortunately for us we made that last run and we made some plays down the stretch.
“We got a little sloppy taking the ball out. We need to get better at that. When you’re up by five with 30 seconds, you’ve got to close that game out and not let them back in it.”
Wooster led 14-8 after the first quarter and extended it’s advantage to 35-27 at the break. The Generals were especially active on the glass, getting several second-change opportunities.
“They were a lot more physical than us, especially early,” Ashland coach Jason Hess said. “They gave themselves a lot of second chances. I don’t think either team shot the ball extremely well. They just got more chances because they crashed the glass harder than we did.”
The Arrows got back into it in the third, outscoring the Generals 25-11. Steury had 10 points in the period.
“We upper our defensive pressure and intensity and were able to get a few rebounds,” Hess said. “Then the ball starts going through the basket and you get a little confidence and you get a little more energy.”
Brayden Hamilton led Wooster with 22 points, followed by Nolen’s 21. Owen Roach added nine.
Steury led Ashland with a game-high 28 points. Luke Denbow added 22, while White had 16. Ashland’s high-scoring trio combined for 44 of Ashland’s 48 second-half points.
“Luke Denbow, you just put so much attention toward him,” Snowbarger said. “It opens up a lot of people on the perimeter to get open looks and stand-still jump shots.
"It’s pick-your-poison because going one-on-one with him you might be in for a long night.”