The noise of Wittenberg’s celebration drifted from the locker room to the hallway inside the HPER Center. Inside, past the giant collage of old Wittenberg photos that has long greeted the players on their way to and from the court, it sounded as if the Tigers were having a dance party.
If ever there were a time to dance after a game, this was it. Ninth-ranked Wittenberg overcame a 22-point deficit in the second half and a six-point deficit in overtime to beat Ohio Wesleyan 62-60 on Wednesday at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
Scott Masin led the Tigers with 24 points 16 rebounds. Cole Bond scored 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Sam Collins had 11 points and eight rebounds. Zack Leahy had eight points, six rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
“It would appear that guys just went possession by possession and did not let the scoreboard be a negative for them, even as they were chipping away,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said, “They just finally decided, ‘Enough’s enough. We’re going to at least go down really flying around and grinding.’ I’m sure the basketball lords, no doubt, had something to do with it.”
The Battling Bishops scored the last seven points of the first half and the first 11 points of the second half to take a 45-23 lead with 16:19 to play. The situation looked dire, to say the least, for the Tigers. From that point forward, however, Ohio Wesleyan would score 15 points in 21 minutes, and six of those came in a one-minute span to start the overtime period.
“I don’t know what to think at that point,” senior guard Zack Leahy said. “You’ve just got to keep playing through it. That’s what we did. If any team I’ve ever been on could have done it, it was this team.”
Someone told senior post Scott Masin, who led the Tigers with 24 points and 16 rebounds, they were about to count the Tigers out when they fell behind by 22.
“I was about to count ourselves out,” Masin said. “I think we were just playing their game at the beginning, not the basketball we’ve been playing all year. You could see immediately when that turnaround happened in the second half, we were attacking the basket more and not being timid.”
The Tigers (11-1) won their 10th straight game, the longest streak since the 2005-06 national runner-up team won 13 straight, by slowing chipping away at the deficit. They cut the lead to single digits with 6:08 left on a layup by Sam Collins. That started a 10-0 run that ended when Leahy hit 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game with 2:05 left.
The Tigers could have taken the lead for the first time since early in the game, but Masin missed two free throws with 1:16 left. Then Ohio Wesleyan ended a six-minute scoring drought, in which they missed eight straight shots from the field, with two free throws by Taylor Rieger with 59 seconds left.
Masin, a 62 percent free-throw shooter, came right back on the next possession to tie the game with two free throws. The arena went dead silent both times as as fans tried to make it easy on Masin. It might have had the opposite affect. It was too quiet, though Masin said it didn’t bother him.
“I always try to clap,” Brown said. “Just to make some noise.”
The game went to overtime. Ohio Wesleyan scored six points in the first 50 seconds and then didn’t score again. A layup by Masin, two free throws by Leahy and a free throw by Masin cut the deficit to 60-59 with 90 seconds left. A layup by Leahy with 1:06 to play put the Tigers up for good.
Leahy made 1-of-2 free throws with 21 seconds left. Ohio Wesleyan got two shots in the final seconds, but both were well guarded.
The Tigers, who host Hiram at 4 p.m. Saturday, are 5-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference, a half game back of No. 2 Wooster (12-1, 6-0). Ohio Wesleyan (9-3, 3-2) is tied for fourth with Kenyon (6-6, 3-2), a game back of third-place DePauw (9-3, 4-1).
“Ohio Wesleyan beat us twice last year,” Masin said, “and they were one of the only teams to beat us twice. We didn’t play like it in the first half, but we wanted to get them back.”