Senior Troy Ruths scored 33 points to lead Washington University in St. Louis to its first NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball National Championship with a 90-68 victory over No. 2-ranked and defending national champion Amherst College on Saturday at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.
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“Obviously it is a tremendous thrill for us to come out here and win the national championship. I think we played two great games against two good teams,” said Washington University head coach Mark Edwards, who improved his overall record to 477-233 in 27 seasons on the Danforth Campus. “To me that’s what basketball is all about. That’s Division III athletics and these are the kids that exemplify that.”
Ruths, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Championship and named the D3hoops.com National Player of the Year, was 9-of-13 from the field and hit a career-high 15-of-17 from the foul line. Ruths averaged 31.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game at the Final Four, shooting 71.4 percent (20-28) from the field and 88.5 percent (23-26) from the foul line.
Sophomore Aaron Thompson added 19 points and four assists, and joined Ruths on the All-Tournament Team. Thompson averaged 17 points and four assists per game during the two-game stretch.
“Coming into this tournament I knew that without Sean (Wallis) we were going to need people to step up at critical times,” said Ruths, who finished his career second in points at Washington University with 1,801. “Throughout the whole season I saw a lot double teams and triple teams and these last two games they decided to play me straight up and that’s what I was praying for.”
The Bears made it clear early on they were going inside to Ruths as he scored six of the first eight points, giving WU the 8-2 lead. Sophomore Cameron Smith equaled his point total from the first semifinal game with a three-pointer and a jumper off a steal in a span of 12 seconds, which pushed the lead to 13-4.
Thompson ignited an 8-0 run with two three-pointers and Ruths added two free-throws extending Washington U.’s lead to 21-8. Junior Tyler Nading and Ruths combined to score 13-straight points to keep the lead in double figures at 35-25. Thompson hit his third three-pointer of half, and then freshman Caleb Knepper came off the bench and drilled a triple, pushing the lead to 41-31.
Washington University (25-6) held a 45-32 halftime advantage after shooting 53.3 (16-30) percent from the field and 88.9 percent (8-9) from the free-throw line. The Bears had 13 assists on 16 made field goals, and committed just five turnovers. Washington U.’s defense held Amherst to 0-for-6 shooting from three-point range. Ruths led all scorers with 17 first-half points, while Thompson added 11.
Ruths scored the first six points of the second half as Washington U. held onto a 51-38 lead, but Amherst’s Andrew Olson canned back-to-back three-pointers and Fletcher Walters added a three to trim the lead to 53-47. The Bears answered with an 8-2 run of their own to build the lead back to double figures at 61-49. An 8-0 run by the Bears gave Washington U. its largest lead of the game at 69-51 with 10:04 remaining.
Senior Danny O’Boyle drained a three-pointer at the 1:37 mark to push the lead to 87-68 and seal the first national championship by a men’s team in school history.
Nading added 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Bears, who tied a school record with their 25th win of the season. The Bears also won 25 games in 2001-02 and 2006-07. Washington U. outrebounded Amherst, 28-23, and improved its season record to 17-0 when leading at the half.
The Bears shot 60 percent (30-50) from the field for the game, including a sizzling 70 percent (14-20) in the second half. Washington U. also hit 23-of-28 (82.1 percent) from the foul line in the victory.
Washington U.’s defense forced 16 turnovers and held the Lord Jeffs to 47.2 percent (25-53) shooting from the field. Amherst entered the game ranked second in Division III in field goal percentage (52.3). Fletcher Watkins (17 points), Olson (16 points), Brian Baskauskas (12 points) and Brandon Jones (12 points) each scored in double figures for Amherst, which finished the season with a 27-4 overall record.