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Men’s Basketball defeats Susquehanna, 77-73 and advance to Sweet Sixteen.

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Trent Spraguehttp://www.trentspraguephotography.com
Trent Sprague is the photo editor and one of The Torch's photojournalists. He is a Communications and Photography major with a journalism minor. He has been on staff since August 2018.

Men’s Basketball faced Susquehanna on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Tigers snapped the River Hawks eight-game winning streak, with a 77-73 win. The red and white’s win sends them to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012. ‘

“We just get to keep playing,” Head Coach Matt Croci said of the win, “We really like being together, its fun to go practice with this group every day. The opportunity to keep playing and extend our season is the most important thing for me.”

The Tigers started the first half trailing as Susquehanna led 15-10 at the 13-minute mark. The River Hawks took advantage of 12 Tiger turnovers in the first half to build up to a nine-point lead at the 8:25 mark. Connor Seipel (’20) led the Tigers first half comeback as he accounted for five defensive rebounds. Landon Martin (’21) cut the River Hawks lead to seven off a layup at the eight-minute mark. The River Hawks drained two free throws to increase the lead to 29-23 with five minutes remaining. Seipel then went vertical for a pair of layups which brought the Tigers within two.

Rashaad Ali-Shakir (’21) then stole and passed to Seipel who tied the game at 29 off a layup with 2:20 remaining in the first. Seipel managed to draw the foul from the River Hawks and take the Tigers first lead of the night. Pam Evans Smith Arena was then rudely awoken as Seipel received a pass from Jake Bertemes (’20) and slammed it in the hoop for a dunk.

Wittenberg Tigers senior forward Connor Seipel (54) dunks during the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship Second Round at Wittenberg University on March 7, 2020.

“It was my first career dunk, ever in a game, but it was awesome,” Seipel said, “[Bertemes] made a great pass and my guy cheated up and I just got behind him. It was just a fun moment.”

The Tigers headed to the locker room with a slim 36-33 lead over the River Hawks.

The Tigers returned from the locker room energized from their first half comeback and controlled the floor as Bertemes and Seipel added consecutive points. At the under-16 media timeout, the River Hawks had managed to cut the Tigers’ lead to three. Seipel continued to put up points from beneath the basket.

“[Susquehanna’s] big guys really battled; I couldn’t do anything with that press until the guards got down. All credit to the guards who gave me the ball.” Seipel said, “As a post player, you’re relying on your guards. [I’m] happy that I have good guards who are willing to throw in the post and work me in the offence.”

The Tigers used their guards a lot as starters Bertemes and Martin both played over thirty minutes.

“We have a very veteran guard group so we know what to expect out of each other, especially in the tournament,” Martin said of the Tigers guards, “When you can just throw it into [Seipel] and he can get us buckets.”

The Tigers held a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining. The River Hawks were determined to not go down without a fight however and battled till the final buzzer. The Tigers lead was cut to 70-66 with a minute remaining. The game’s final 20 seconds were stretched out for nearly 10 minutes as a foul by Bertemes send the River Hawks to the line. The River Hawks converted a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 75-71 with 16 seconds remaining. The Tigers Fans were treated to a thriller as a foul by Martin sent the River Hawks to the line again with six seconds remaining. The lead was brought within three after the Hawks converted both free throws, and left fans biting their nails. The Tigers however would hold the lead, and beat the Susquehanna River Hawks, 77-73 and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Wittenberg Tigers junior guard Landon Martin (1) is helped up by Susquehanna River Hawks junior guard Bryce Butler (11) after falling during the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship Second Round at Wittenberg University on March 7, 2020.

“This might sound kind of weird, it’s nice not to have a spring break for once, because that week is [kind of] long,” Martin said.

Seipel led the red and white with 33 points, and 14 rebounds for his nineteenth double-double of the season. The Tigers shot 28-55 for 50.9-percent from the field and where 4-17 beyond the arc for 23.5-percent.  48 of the Tigers 77 points came from the paint. Bertemes accounted for five assists, while Martin tallied three.

The Tigers advance to the Sweet Sixteen where they will face the Mount UnionPurple Raiders on March 13 at 7:30pm. The Purple Raiders are head into the Sweet Sixteen on a 19-game winning streak which began after the Raiders lost to Heidelberg on Jan. 4. Mount Union defeated the York Spartans, 90-77, in second round and are 27-3 this season. The Purple Raiders are currently ranked fifth in the country by D3Hoops.com.

Croci leads the red and white to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012. The Tigers’ post season run the previous two seasons have ended with losses in the second round.

“We’ll enjoy this one certainly and spend some time as a team [Sunday] and [kind of] hang out a little bit. We’ll go back to work on Monday and enjoy our day off [Sunday],” Croci said, “It’s tournament time, there’s only going to be 16 teams left in the country. Just tell us where and when, and we’ll be there.”

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