- By Jeff Gilbert Contributing Writer
Matt Croci told his young Wittenberg team before the season it needed to find an identity. When you have a 6-foot-10 post player in Division III, that’s a good place to start figuring out what kind of team you’re going to be.
And start there the Tigers did on Saturday. Roy scored 10 of his team’s first 15 points and 16 of his career-high 25 in the first half to lead the unbeaten and third-ranked Tigers to an 84-61 victory over Denison.
“Early on they were letting us play inside a lot,” Roy said. “In the second half, they started to collapse a little bit and we kicked it and got our shooters going. We’ve got so many weapons.”
The Tigers (19-0, 12-0 NCAC) took only five 3-pointers in the first half and led 38-30 at the break. The inside-out game of the second half produced 7-of-11 shooting from three-point range. Mitchell Balser made three of them and scored 12 points and James Johnson made two.
“What I’m most proud about is the guards are willing to throw the ball in knowing that they’re going to get the ball kicked back out if the bigs get guarded well,” Tigers coach Matt Croci said. “It’s a fun thing to watch them play together.”
Roy said this is the best team-ball team he has ever played on.
“There’s so much talent, and we’ve got a different leading scorer every night,” Roy said. “We have 15 to 20 assists every night. It’s great playing with these guys.”
Croci said he believes Roy, a senior, is the best post player in the conference. And what further sets the Tigers apart is the continued emergence of 6-6 sophomore Connor Seipel. He had 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The two post players combined for 20 rebounds. Denison (10-9, 6-6) had 22.
“You take away one, the other one’s going to go to work” Roy said. “We always count on someone having a mismatch.”
So far the Tigers have been a mismatch for a lot of teams on their schedule. The Tigers beat Denison by 31 in December, but it wasn’t until an 11-2 run in the middle of the second half pushed the lead to 22 and put the game away. Roy said Denison was hungry and that his team treated this game like every other game.
“We take it one day at a time, one game at a time,” Roy said. “It’s cliche, but it’s really what we’re doing.”
This group of players has not won a conference title or been to the NCAA tournament. Croci hopes those goals continue to drive his team.
“We’ve proven at this point in the year that we’ve got a really good basketball team, and the challenge for them is to not get complacent and content,” he said. “We just have to keep focusing on the process and the attention to detail. If we can do that, then who knows where we can go.”