Consecutive losses don’t mean it’s time to start over. But Bill Brown knows the status quo won’t cut it if his Wittenberg men’s basketball team is to get where it wants to go.
The goal is a return to the NCAA Division III tournament after staying home last year. After the Tigers won their holiday tournament in late December, senior guard Sam Collins was even more specific.
“We want to go to the Final Four,” Collins said when the Tigers were nearing the end of an 11-game winning streak. “We want to win our league, win our tournament and make some noise in the big tournament.”
That streak ended Wednesday in a 72-46 loss at DePauw. Now the Tigers have a two-game losing streak to stop after falling to second-ranked Wooster 69-62 Saturday night at home. The Tigers, who had reached No. 9 in the national poll, are now in a tie for second place in the North Coast Athletic Conference with DePauw and Ohio Wesleyan at 6-2. Wooster is 8-0.
“We’re interested in taking steps forward,” Brown said. “We talked about that the last two weeks, but we haven’t taken any steps forward. Maybe we need to look at different people if we think we can sustain and play better and longer.”
Brown has some changes in mind as he tries to keep the Tigers in the hunt for the regular-season title. But for NCAA purposes, it’s more important to peak for the conference tournament and go after the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Brown became disgruntled with his starters early in the second half when they fell behind by 19 points. He turned to his second string, which ignited a comeback that got the Tigers as close as four points. The bench combined for 33 points.
Brown said junior guard Ben Bowen was important to how well the team ran its motion offense in the second half. And freshman guard Shane Edwards scored six of his eight points in the half, all on slashing, aggressive moves to the rim. Edwards averages 14 minutes per game but played 24.
“Shane Edwards, you’ve really got to look at getting him more minutes than he’s usually played because he leaves it out there,” Brown said.
Brown’s most significant shift in strategy was inserting 6-foot-8 freshman post Brock Kiesler into the lineup alongside senior post and leading scorer Scott Masin. It was the first time the two had played together this season.
“It’s been in my head all year,” Masin said. “I think it’s a great option for us to have, especially with an undersized four man; it’s hard for them to match up.”
Masin scored a game-high 17 points. Kiesler played almost twice his usual minutes and scored 11 points. They combined to make 10-of-14 shots and shoot 12 free throws.
“We at least need to entertain the thought of looking at something where the two bigs can play together,” Brown said. “But what (does) that mean at the defensive end? It forced us to play more zone than we usually do. The zone wasn’t a bad tactic the way it all turns out. But there’s two ends of the court, and to play those two you’re going to have to have the right matchups to be able to do that on the defensive end.”