Matt Croci reflects on first season with Wittenberg Tigers

Shane Edwards named NCAC’s top defender

Wittenberg basketball coach Matt Croci has already turned the page from his first season at the helm to his second season. That means he and his assistant coaches will be all over the place recruiting at high school tournament games this month.

Croci took some time Thursday, however, to look back at the season that ended Feb. 24 with a 77-68 loss to Ohio Wesleyan in the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.

“I think with our tradition and our program history, the expectations are higher than most places, so I think it was a good first year for me,” Croci said. “I think we got some things back to where they needed to be just in terms of a few more wins and the culture change of working hard every day and earning everything you get.”

The Tigers finished 18-9 and 11-7 in the NCAC. That was a four-win improvement overall and a two-win improvement in the conference from last season, Bill Brown’s final season as head coach.

Wittenberg won seven games in a row from the end of January through the first weeks of February but lost its last two regular-season games to Ohio Wesleyan and Wooster. The rival Scots beat the Tigers twice by a total of 43 points. Wittenberg lost five NCAC games by six points or less.

“Really if you look at our nine losses, the two Wooster games were not great for us obviously,” Croci said, “but the other seven games were winnable. The last game, Ohio Wesleyan beat us by nine, but everything else was a single-digit loss where if we shoot from the free-throw line better or shoot better here or there, it could have gone either way. We put ourselves in a position to win. That’s a good lesson for our young guys.”

Wittenberg loses four of its top five leading scorers, all seniors: Jaelin Williams (11.6 points per game), who was named to the All-NCAC second team; Ryan Phillippi (11.2); Landon Hormann (8.2); and Shane Edwards (8.0).

Edwards was named the All-NCAC Defensive Player of the Year. The Tigers led the league in scoring defense (64.6 points per game in 18 conference games).

“That was a pretty cool thing for us,” Croci said. “This is the first year the league has split the player of the year award into offensive and defensive. He’s the first to win that award. He guarded the opposing team’s best player every game and held most of those guys to well below their scoring average. He was our leading rebounder and our leader in steals and blocks. He set the tone for our team.”

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