Coming off of their worst loss of the season, the Tigers could have folded and given up on a North Coast Athletic Conference championship. But, the Wittenberg men’s basketball team dug deep and brought their best game on the road against a nationally ranked opponent.
The Tigers visited Ohio Wesleyan on Wednesday in a rematch of one of the best games in Wittenberg history. Earlier in the season, the Tigers came back from a 22 point deficit to beat the Bishops in overtime. Wittenberg entered the game at (15-4) overall, (9-3) in the NCAC and tied for second place in the conference. OWU came into the matchup in a tie for first place with Wooster, at (16-3) overall and (10-2) in conference play. A win would keep the Tigers in the conference race and a chance to host the NCAC Conference Tournament. But, a win over the 13th ranked Bishops would solidify a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd overall Tigers.
Wittenberg flipped the script from the last meeting with the Bishops, and quickly pulled ahead for good. The Tigers led 34-26 at halftime behind a hot start from senior guard Zack Leahy. Leahy had been struggling with injuries for the past month or so, and this game showed what he can do when fully healthy. In the second half the Bishops rallied to within three points on multiple occasions, but the Tigers were able to respond and prevail, 66-55.
Leahy led the team with a career high 27 points on 11-14 shooting from the field, including five three pointers. Leahy, who played his freshman season at the University of Toledo, was unstoppable and was able to score from anywhere on the court. Senior Scott Masin came up with a big double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Junior Sam Collins scored 13 points and grabbed seven boards from the small forward spot. Senior point guard Steven Newell scored nine points and made all six of his foul shots, an important feat for a team with major issues from the foul line.
Wittenberg then defeated Oberlin on Saturday, 70-63. Leahy again was the high scorer for the Tigers with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. Masin again came up big inside, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Collins had another great all-around game with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. Senior Cole Bond scored nine points, followed by Newell with six. Freshman Shane Edwards chipped in eight points and four rebounds off the bench, with fellow freshman Landon Hormann adding four points and five boards.
This coming week will be the most important seven days for the program since the Elite Eight trip in 2012. Wittenberg hosts DePauw on Wednesday, February 12 before traveling to rival Wooster on Saturday, February 15. Two wins would allow the Tigers to at least tie Wooster for first place in the conference and surely move the team into the top 10 nationally. However, this will be a tough task for the Tigers, as the team lost to both opponents earlier in the season, including a 26 point loss to DePauw.