Connor Seipel wasn’t ready for his collegiate career to end.
The Wittenberg University big man put the Tigers on his back in the second round of the NCAA Division Tournament, tying a career-high with 33 points en route to a 77-73 victory over Susquehanna on Saturday night at Pam Evans Smith Arena.
“I didn’t want to go home,” Seipel said. “I didn’t want my career to be done. That was just extra motivation to play a little bit harder, dive for everything, get every rebound. It was just a fun game.”
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Wittenberg (28-2) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012. The Tigers lost in the second round each of the previous two seasons.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” said Tigers coach Matt Croci. “(Susquehanna) was a tough, tough opponent who puts a lot of pressure on you, not just with their press. We talked a lot about mental fatigue, how they can wear you out constantly running two or three guys at you. I’m really proud of our effort, our focus, staying calm in some really tough spots.”
Seipel, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound post player, also pulled down 14 rebounds for his 19th double-double of the season.
“Their big guys really battled, but I couldn’t do anything against that press until the guards got it down,” Seipel said. “All credit to the guards for getting me the ball. As a post player, you’re reliant on your guards. I’m happy I have good guards who are willing to throw it into the post.”
Junior James Johnson had 13 points and seven boards for the Tigers, while junior Landon Martin had 12 points.
“I thought our experience showed,” Croci said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys and they weathered the storm.”
Susquehanna sophomore Lukas Yurasitis, who had a team-high 22 points for the River Hawks (21-8), hit a 3-pointer with 8:25 left in the first half to give his team a 25-16 lead. The Tigers would go on a 20-8 run, capped by a breakaway dunk by Seipel, to take a 36-33 halftime lead.
“It was my first career dunk ever in a game,” Seipel said. “It was awesome. (Jake Bertemes) made a great pass. My guy cheated up, so I just kind of got behind him. It was just a fun moment.”
Wittenberg led by as many as 10 points in the second half, but the River Hawks wouldn’t go away.
With two minutes remaining, Martin was fouled on a putback, converting an old-fashioned 3-point play to put the Tigers up 70-62. Susquehanna cut the lead to two on two free throws by Zachary Knecht to bring them within four points.
On the Tigers’ next possession, Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to push the lead back to seven points.
“Those were just two huge plays,” Croci said. “I think that’s the way our team is built. We’ve got guys that can make plays on the offensive end, but they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
The River Hawks cut the lead to three points with six seconds remaining, but Johnson hit a free throw with five seconds remaining to seal Wittenberg’s trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
Wittenberg will play Ohio Athletic Conference champion Mount Union on Saturday, March 14, at a time to be determined. It likely will be a road game for Witt.. The Purple Raiders beat York, Pa. 90-77 in the second round.
“The obvious thing is that we get to keep playing,” Croci said. “I know that sounds corny, but we really like being together. It’s fun to go to practice with this group every day. As a coach, I really enjoy being around them and going to work, competing, being teammates and all that. The opportunity to extend our season was the most important thing for me.”
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