Alex Hall scored a season-high 35 points, including seven three-pointers, helping Drury topple defending champion Western Washington 107-97 on Saturday in a NCAA Division II semifinal.
Hall, the Panthers’ top scorer, shook off foul trouble and finished 10 of 15 from the field. He came up a point shy of his career high following a 33-point game in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over South Carolina-Aiken.
“We came in super focused,” said Hall, who made his first four shots from three-point range. “I hit a few in a row and my team found me for some open looks.”
Drury, 30-4, shot 57.6 percent and extended a school-record winning streak to 22 games. The Panthers’ offense was crucial in surviving Western Washington’s rally from 24 down in the second half, cutting Drury’s lead to 85-79 with 4:48 left.
But Hall sandwiched two foul shots around three baskets by Cameron Adams, increasing the lead to 93-81. Brandon Lockhart (24 points) and Ian Carter (19) both added two free throws that made it 97-81.
Drury will head back to Springfield before facing Metro State (Colo.) in the championship on April 7 in Atlanta. Metro State beat top-ranked West Liberty (W.Va.) 83-76 in the other semifinal.
“This is a dream come true, something we’ve been fighting for since Oct. 15,” the Panthers’ Teddy Simniok said of reaching the championship game.
Drury avenged a 72-69 on Dec. 18 loss to Western Washington, 31-3, in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic that also marked its first loss of the season. More importantly, the Panthers denied the Vikings’ 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.
“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.”