The third seed in the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament is up for grabs at 8 tonight at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
If Wittenberg (15-8, 8-6) beats DePauw (14-9, 7-7), it will wrap up the third seed. It could still tie for third place with either Kenyon or Denison (both 7-7), depending on what happens Saturday, the final day of the regular season, but the Tigers beat both of those teams in their only meeting during the regular season, so they would have the tiebreaker.
Wittenberg coach Bill Brown wants to place third for “program pride” as much as anything. The Tigers have finished below third only once (2008-09) since joining the conference in 1989.
“You play the six seed instead of the five,” Brown said. “It’s not a huge advantage. You play at home. It ought to be some advantage playing at home, even if we haven’t made it appear that way this year.”
Wittenberg lost 68-66 in overtime at DePauw on Jan. 23. Wittenberg’s Alex Fultz hit a game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left in overtime, but DePauw’s Alex Payne hit a jump shot at the buzzer to win the game.
DePauw upset Ohio Wesleyan 65-63 in overtime in its next game, but it has since lost three of its last four, including 51-49 at home to ninth-place Oberlin on Saturday. That’s not as bad a loss as it seems because Oberlin (6-17, 4-10) has played a number of teams tough despite its record.
“Oberlin, as we well know, really shortens the game,” Brown said. “They work the clock. There are fewer possessions. They lull you to sleep. Then you’ve got issues. You tense up. Their style is perfect to pull off an upset like they did there.”
The Tigers are coming off a 75-71 loss at Wooster. While they’ll never be happy with a loss to their big rival, it was obvious the Tigers had made major strides since losing 60-41 at home to Wooster on Dec. 1.
Wittenberg’s goal now is to earn another date with the Scots, perhaps in the NCAC tournament final. Winning tonight would help in that cause.
“We’ll get another chance at them hopefully,” guard Zack Leahy said. “We’ll see what we can do.”