The Wittenberg men’s basketball team came into this past week with a chance to all but guarantee a share of the North Coast Athletic Conference title and basically clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament. All that stood in the way of these accomplishments were two teams that had already trounced the Tigers earlier in the season, DePauw and Wooster.
Wittenberg entered Wednesday’s home contest with DePauw at (17-4) overall and (11-3) in the NCAC. The Tigers had won their last two games and looked to bring that momentum into this do or die contest. The Tigers also had a chip on their shoulders after their first game earlier in the season when DePauw beat Wittenberg 72-46. The loss was the start of a downhill slide that led to the Tigers sliding onto the NCAA tournament bubble.
Unfortunately for Wittenberg, the home team didn’t fare much better in the rematch. The two teams played relatively evenly in the first half, with DePauw leading 30-25 at the break. But, it was all downhill from there on out. DePauw came out firing and Wittenberg’s offense simply couldn’t keep up. The Tigers also had no answer for DePauw’s size down low and once the visitors started raining threes it was all but over. The final score was 71-49 in favor of DePauw, a crippling loss for the team’s tournament aspirations.
Senior Scott Masin scored nine points and 12 rebounds. Fellow senior Zack Leahy led the team in scoring with 11 points. Junior Sam Collins scored nine points and added six rebounds. Senior Cole Bond added six points, followed by freshman Cody Phillippi with five points.
The loss to DePauw put even more pressure on Wittenberg in the game against Wooster. The Tigers needed a win to stay in a tie for second place with DePauw and Ohio Wesleyan. A victory would also give the Tigers a signature win to strengthen their tournament resume.
Form the beginning of the contest it was clear that this would be a battle to the end. The two teams traded baskets for the majority of the first half. Wittenberg led by two with a minute left in the first half, before Wooster went on a five point run to take a 30-27 lead into halftime.
The Scots used their momentum from the first half to widen their lead in the beginning of the second half. Just like in the first meeting this season, the Tigers spent the second half desperately trying to catch up to the Scots. The Scots definitely enjoyed their fair share of hometown officiating, as the Tigers almost constantly found themselves on the wrong end of the officials’ whistles. This included a technical foul being assessed to Coach Bill Brown, one of the more relaxed coaches in the conference. The Tigers pulled to within three in the final minute of the game, but they were unable to get any closer, falling 60-55.
Wittenberg now must almost certainly win the NCAC Tournament to secure a bid to the national tournament. The Tigers host Kenyon on Wednesday, February 19 for Senior Night. The team will be recognizing an exceptional senior class that includes Leahy, Masin, Bond, Steve Newell and Justin McDowell.