Basketball preview: Wittenberg optimistic in second year under Croci

10:22 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 Sports
Wittenberg’s Chad Roy poses after breaking a rim at practice on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2017, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

Chad Roy’s teammates posed in front of the shattered backboard. Then he took his turn, the rim hanging limply by his side inside Pam Evans Smith Arena.

Ten days before Friday’s season opener, the Wittenberg Tigers saw how how much strength their one returning starter has. Roy, a 6-foot-9 senior post from Toledo, broke the backboard while dunking during practice. It was just a normal dunk. He had never broken a backboard before and wasn’t trying to do so this time.

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Roy’s teammates reacted as if he had made a last-second shot.

“For a second, there was silence,” Roy said. “Then everyone went crazy.”

In the second year for head coach Matt Croci, Wittenberg hopes to enjoy a few similar experiences when the real games begin. The Tigers open the season against Mount St. Joseph at 2 p.m. Friday at the Great Lakes Invitational at Marietta College. They also play Birmingham Southern at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Wittenberg finished 18-9 last season, increasing its win total for the third straight season. Wittenberg lost four starters from that team: Jaelin Williams (11.6); Cody Phillippi (11.2); Landon Hormann (8.2); and Shane Edwards (8.0). Ryan Gallimore (5.3), who started 13 games, is another key loss. Roy (10.4) is the top returning scorer.

The Tigers were picked to finish third in the NCAC behind Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan.

“We’re definitely positive going into this year,” Roy said. “We’re very young. But we’ve got a lot of energy.”

There’s a lot of responsibility on Roy’s shoulders, Croci said, and he has handled the pressure well.

“I know he will respond to it because every year he’s been here he’s come back a much better player than the year before,” Croci said. “I’ve already seen that from his junior year to this year. He knows we’re relying on him. He knows we need him to produce.”

Along with Roy, Croci expects the starting lineup to include the following players:

Mitch Balser: The 6-0 point guard from Centerville High School played the last two seasons for Wittenberg’s longtime rival Wooster.

• Jake Bertemes: The Southeastern grad, a 5-11 sophomore guard, saw limited action in nine games last season.

• Michael Morgan: The 6-1 sophomore guard, from Bishop Hartley in Columbus, appeared in 13 games last season.

• James Johnson: The 6-6 freshman forward from Roger Bacon in Cincinnati has been the best player in the freshman class.

“Most of that class has been kind of what we thought,” Croci said. “It was kind of our highest-needed position, that stretch four small forward. We thought we had a good one with him, and he has delivered. It has been fun to watch.”

Women’s team: The Wittenberg women’s basketball team also opens the season Friday, playing Spalding University at 8 p.m. in the Wilmington Tip-Off Tournament.

This is the second season for coach Kelly Mahlum, who was named interim coach before last season. She had the interim tag removed in May. She’s the eighth head coach in Wittenberg history.

The The Tigers finished 10-16 last season and 6-10 in the NCAC. Wittenberg returns its top scorer, junior guard Alex Kiess (12.8 points per game). Wittenberg was picked to finish fifth in the NCAC.

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