CLINTON — Ashford has played better games, and so has its leading scorer, Anthony Woods. But survival is what counts at this time of year, and Woods and his teammates responded when they needed to Friday night.
Woods buried a crucial 3-point basket after Fisher College crept within three points late, and the basket helped the Saints hold on for an 80-74 win in the semifinals of the Association of Independent Institutions men’s basketball tournament at Kehl Arena.
“It’s a great feeling,” Woods said of reaching tonight’s 8 o’clock final against Northern New Mexico, which beat Rochester 71-61 in Friday’s first men’s semifinal. “It’s what we’ve talked about since preseason. We’re one step closer now.”
Woods, who finished with 19 points, scored seven of Ashford’s first nine points in the second half as it widened a 39-30 halftime lead to 48-33 with 17 minutes, 17 seconds remaining. Fisher refused to bow out without a battle, though.
A three-point play by Tyler Shular (18 points) brought the Falcons (13-18) within 72-67, and when Shular made 2 of 3 free throws with 2:20 left, Fisher was within 72-69.
“We were a little concerned, but we’ve been working on late-game situations all year,” Woods said.
Woods had the answer this time. He demonstrated why he was named the conference Player of the Year on Thursday by draining a 3-pointer from the right corner, and Ashford had a little breathing room.
“I got the opportunity, and I capitalized,” said Woods, a 6-foot-4 junior from Normal, Ill. “It definitely put a little ease on our minds. It gave us a little cushion.”
The basket started an 8-5 closing run, and Fisher never got closer than four after that.
“When they threatened us, I liked the run we made and the way we responded,” Drake said.
He wasn’t quite so thrilled with the rest of the game.