Some enterprising Wittenberg students brought four giant paper cutouts of the heads of coach Bill Brown, guards Steven Newell and Zack Leahy and, for whatever reason, one of the stars of the A&E series Duck Dynasty to Saturday’s game against Allegheny.
The students hoisted those heads on sticks above their heads all game long. Newell and Leahy noticed the heads, but they didn’t let the attention go to their heads, combining for 30 points in a 67-63 victory at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
The Tigers improved to 5-2, evened their record in North Coast Athletic Conference play at 1-1 and avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2008.
“We needed this so bad,” said Newell, who scored 17. “We’ve just been struggling so much defensively and also on the offensive end. We’re still not all the way there. We’ve got to keep building on this.”
Leahy, who scored 13 points, sealed the win with two free throws with 8 seconds left. The Tigers trailed 6-0 in the opening minutes but were up by as many as 11 in the first half and as many as 9 in the second. The Gators stayed in the game, however, despite shooting 5-of-24 from 3-point range.
“We’re a work in progress and have been ever since day one,” Brown said. “Any W is a good W. For a lot of teams in small college basketball in this area, with the parity there is, every win you can grind out you’re going to look at as a good one.”
The Tigers made 7-of-8 free throws in the final two minutes and shot 13-of-17 from the line (a season-best 77 percent) in the game. In their last two games, losses to Wooster and Otterbein, the Tigers shot 27-of-44 from the line (61 percent).
Wittenberg also hit a season-high 12 3-pointers, including 8-of-16 in the first half. Some of that had to do with the zone defense Allegheny (4-4, 0-2 NCAC) played.
“The 3s were the difference and also the clutch free throws,” Brown said. “I can’t say our rebounding and defense really improved that much, and we have to continue to work on that for sure.”
The Tigers did get a big defensive play in the final minute. Scott Masin came up with a steal with 38 seconds left with the Tigers nursing a 63-61 lead. The Gators were forced to foul at that point, and Newell and Leahy each hit two free throws in the final 30 seconds.
Masin, who had 11 points, played his third straight game in a mask to protect his broken nose. He will have it reset Monday and won’t practice all week, but Brown said he expects Masin to be available for the next game at 3 p.m. Saturday at home against Ohio Christian.
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