For a brief moment, Wittenberg had its arch-rival Wooster on its heels Saturday. The Scots dominated the Tigers in December and controlled this one for most of the way until the momentum turned midway through the second half.
Sophomore guard Ben Syroka, who wore a flashy Tiger shirt he picked up at Wal-Mart in Springfield in warmups, pulled the Tigers back from a 13-point deficit almost by himself with eight quick points. Then freshman Alex Fultz drained a 3-pointer.
With seven minutes left, Wittenberg led its biggest rival by one, but that’s where the 14th-ranked Scots showed their experience and talent, scoring the next 10 points and hanging on to win 75-71 at Timken Gymnasium.
“I think it shows a little progress on our part,” Syroka said. “It’s still obviously disappointing losing to Wooster, but we’re headed in the right direction. We have a couple more games, and we’re confident going to the conference tournament.”
The Tigers (15-8, 8-6) still have third place to themselves in the North Coast Athletic Conference with two games to play. Despite the loss, they still have to be feeling good about themselves. After all, Wooster beat them 60-41 on Dec. 1.
“I’ve liked our team all year long,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said. “We don’t have the physical skills and talent we’ve had in a lot of other years, but we score really high in the intangibles: desire, determination, perseverance, a fair degree of toughness. That’s huge.”
DePauw, Kenyon and Denison are right on Wittenberg’s heels. All three are 7-7. DePauw was upset by Oberlin 51-49 Saturday. DePauw plays at Wittenberg on Wednesday.
Wooster (20-3, 13-1) had already clinched the regular-season title. It swept the regular-season series from the Tigers for the first time since 2009.
The Scots fell behind 7-2 early, but they led 35-26 at halftime. They stretched the advantage to 49-36 with 13:48 left in the second half. Then the Tigers went on a 14-0 run. Syroka had all eight of his points in that span.
“We all know we can play with these guys,” Syorka said. “We just had to be confident in ourselves and knock down some shots. The two-three zone kind of stymied their offense and their dribble-drive scheme. We executed for a good eight or nine-minute stretch on offense, and we really had them on the ropes. They just kept hitting shots.”
Two 3-pointers by Wooster’s Doug Thorpe, who shared the team lead with Kenny DeBoer with 20 points, stopped Wittenberg’s momentum. The Tigers still didn’t go away, cutting the deficit to 64-61 on a three-point play by Zack Leahy with two minutes left, but Wooster answered with a 3-pointer by Jalen Goodwin.
Leahy led the Tigers with 19 points. Scott Masin added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Sam Collins scored 11.