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Confident Tigers take tourney title

Sam Collins showed Wittenberg’s weekend opponents something that wasn’t on the scouting report — the 3-pointer.

But after Collins had swished two shots from outside of what is supposed to be his range, he turned to what he does best Saturday night when the Kean defense showed respect for his range. Collins attacked the basket for the last four of his 23 points to shut down a Kean comeback. The Tigers defeated Kean 91-75 to win the Charles B. Zimmerman Memorial Classic.

“I’m not forcing anything,” Collins said. “(Zack) Leahy, (Steven) Newell, Scott (Masin), anybody can score 23 on a night. It was just my night to do that.”

Collins’ performance is just another example of how easily things have been coming for the 11th-ranked Tigers (10-1) as they pursue a return to the NCAA Division III tournament. The Tigers finished 17-10 last season and stayed home, but they are winning by an average of 18 points this season.

Tigers head coach Bill Brown doesn’t know if easy is good right now for the Tigers as they turn to nothing but North Coast Athletic Conference games the rest of the season.

“We talk about the difference between confident and comfortable,” he said. “I’m glad they’re playing with such great confidence, but you don’t want to play with contentment or too much comfort.”

To make the national tournament, Brown says there is no margin for error. He said a tough loss at DePauw and a home loss to Hiram last year might have been what kept the Tigers out of the field. The only sure way to make the field is to win the NCAC tournament.

Brown said the Tigers’ at-large chances — should it come to that — might rely on winning the regular-season title because the nonconference strength-of-schedule resume isn’t what Brown expected. He said that’s what happens when some traditionally good programs are having down years.

“It’s sort of unfair,” Brown said. But he does have hope that Kean, Capital and Thomas More are teams with the ability to finish strong and improve the Tigers’ strength of schedule.

Still, being able to beat teams like Ohio Wesleyan and Wooster and build on its 4-0 conference start is the team’s focus heading into January.

“Every game’s important, but the league is crucial,” Collins said. “The league opponents we play twice a year, they know our strengths, they know our weaknesses. So it’s really about playing hard every night.”

Brown recently challenged his non-starters to play better and he was pleased with the progress he saw this weekend in a 79-40 win over Grove City and then Kean. Masin said the coach is also telling the team fewer turnovers and stronger defense are needed to reach the goals it wants to reach.

Collins and Masin said there has been some talk of a final-four goal because of their experience, depth and chemistry.

“The sky’s the limit right now,” Masin said. “We’re working hard every day and we’re not putting a cap on what we can accomplish.”

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