GREENCASTLE, Ind. — The final regular-season goal for the Wittenberg University men’s basketball team has been reached.
The Tigers held on to beat DePauw University 56-55 on Wednesday night, ensuring themselves the outright North Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championship at Neal Fieldhouse. It was their first outright NCAC title since 2004.
“I’m ecstatic for everybody connected with the program, in particular the seven seniors,” Witt veteran head coach Bill Brown said.
Wittenberg senior Michael Cooper had a game-high 22 points, hitting six 3-pointers, and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Tigers improved to 19-5 and 13-2 in the NCAC.
The South High School graduate went 7-for-20 from the field, and 6-for-14 from behind the 3-point arc. The Tigers were able to pull out the win despite shooting just 33 percent from the field.
“I just shake my head,” Brown said. “We win another game with another poor shooting performance. (Coop) shot the three very well. It’s been awhile since he had a rebounding game like this. He really, really wanted to win the title outright.”
Wittenberg senior Clayton Black, who had 14 points, hit two free throws with 1:13 remaining to give the Tigers a 56-52 advantage.
On the next possession, DePauw’s Michael Wilkison hit a 3-pointer, pulling the hosts within one point at 56-55.
Wittenberg turned the ball over on its next possession, giving DePauw the ball in front of its own bench with 17.8 seconds remaining. After a timeout, DePauw’s Sean Haseley drove the ball to the lane, but his shot missed the rim as time expired.
“The angle was right by where our bench could see it, it was on line, it was just short,” Brown said.
DePauw led by nine early in the first half, but Wittenberg fought back to take a 28-26 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Witt used a 9-1 run to grab a 50-41 lead on a 3-pointer by Cooper with 6:53 remaining.
“It was crucial,” Brown said. “I’d like to say they shouldn’t have been able to make the run back, but they’ve got tradition and players who play with pride, too.”
Brown said to win the title this year is a nice feat given the league’s strength as a whole.
“It’s quite a tribute to our guys,” Brown said.