llinois Wesleyan 89, Nebraska Wesleyan 86
SALEM, Va. (AP) _ So much for the rebuilding year.
Illinois Wesleyan, which lost six seniors and four starters from a 1996 team that finished third in Division III, capped its 1997 season Saturday with a national championship.
Bryan Crabtree scored 28 points, Brent Niebrugge had 24 and Illinois Wesleyan held on for an 89-86 win over Nebraska Wesleyan after blowing a 23-point lead in the second half.
``When it came right down to having to suck it up and find a way to win again, these guys found a way to win again,″ Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennie Bridges said. ``And now they have something they can take with them all of their lives _ a national championship.″
Trailing 65-46 with 13 minutes left, Nebraska Wesleyan (25-6) made a barrage of 3-pointers during a 25-5 run. Mitch Mosser, who hit three 3-pointers during the spree, made two free throws with 6:43 left to bring Nebraska Wesleyan within 70-69.
``I was very confident at that point that we were going to win the ballgame,″ Nebraska Wesleyan coach Todd Raridon said. ``This team hasn’t quit all year. They were upset at halftime. They knew they had played badly. But this team has never folded, and we had our chances.″
But Illinois Wesleyan (29-2) went back up 81-73 on a layup by Niebrugge with 1:56 remaining, and Nebraska got within three only by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Titans, who lost six seniors and four starters from a team that finished 28-2 and took third place in the Division III tournament last year. Crabtree was the only returning starter.
Crabtree scored 12 points in a 15-5 run that gave the Titans a 34-15 lead in the first half.
Nebraska Wesleyan was cold from the outside in the first half, hitting only 2-of-11 3-pointers. The Titans, meanwhile, made 67 percent of their shots in the first half.