Alex Hall scored a season-high 35 points, making seven 3-pointers to help Drury topple defending champion Western Washington 107-97 on Saturday in the NCAA Division II semifinal.
The Panthers’ top scorer shook off foul trouble to finish 10 of 15 from the field, set the pace for Drury’s 34-of-59 shooting (57.6 percent) and extend a school-record winning streak to 22. He came up a point shy of his career high but was two better than Thursday’s quarterfinal effort against South Carolina-Aiken.
“We came in super focused,” said Hall, who hit his first four from long range. “I hit a few in a row and my team found me for some open looks.”
Drury’s offense was crucial in surviving Western Washington’s rally from 24 down in the second half to get to 85-79 with 4:48 left.
Hall sandwiched two foul shots around three baskets by Cameron Adams to make it 93-81. Brandon Lockhart (24 points) and Ian Carter (19) both added two free throws to stretch it to 97-81 with just over 2 minutes left and seal the high-scoring game.
Teddy Simniok added 12 points for Drury (30-4), which faces Metro State in the championship on April 7 in Atlanta. Metro State beat top-ranked West Liberty 83-76 in the other semifinal.
“This is a dream come true, something we’ve been fighting for since Oct. 15,” Simniok said of reaching the championship game.
Hall quickly got the Panthers going toward their goal, hitting his first four 3-pointers and 5-of-7 in a 23-point first half that gave Drury to a 50-32 lead at intermission.
The Panthers appeared to need that cushion with Hall’s three fouls putting him on the bench for several minutes in the second half. But Drury couldn’t miss and managed to stretch the lead past 20 before he returned several minutes later and dropped in a couple more from long range even after picking up his fourth foul.
“That was huge, being able to score and get the ball in places,” Drury coach Steve Hesser said. “That’s a confidence boost. Obviously, before that Alex was a huge part of our offense, to say the least. But we got the ball inside and we did nice with our cutting and ball movement.”
Drury avenged a 72-69 on Dec. 18 loss to Western Washington in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic that also marked its first loss of the season. More importantly, the Panthers denied the Bellingham school’s quest to become the first Division II team in 19 years to win consecutive championships.
How Drury did it bothered Western Washington coach Tony Dominquez the most. Well aware that Hall would be the main threat, he prepared his players to slow the guard down and limit his options.
The Vikings instead saw the All-American start off smoking.
“I thought we were prepared,” Dominguez said. “We switched on purpose to defend for Hall. The ease in his making shots was that we weren’t there. He’s an All-American, he knocked down shots and that was frustrating.”
Rico Wilkins’ 27 points led the Vikings (31-3). Richard Woodworth added 19 and Paul Jones 16.