Tigers find their form, but falter late in second-round NCAA loss

Wittenberg finishes season 27-3


Tigers overcome 17-point deficit to take lead in second half, but late 3-pointers by Oshkosh the difference.

Wittenberg coach Matt Croci subbed liberally in the first half against Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the NCAA Division III tourney, but each lineup he tried looked as disjointed and panicked as the previous one.

The Tigers, who trailed by as many as 17 points, faced a 34-19 halftime deficit. They shot 30 percent, committed nine turnovers and looked nothing like the team that averaged 82.3 points this season.

RELATED: Witt rolls in tourney opener

RELATED: Photos of Witt’s first-round win

“We were trying to let them know a lot of things that weren’t going our way were controllable,” Croci said. “We just weren’t handling pressure. We were getting a little frazzled. We weren’t executing. We talked about getting back to our plan and doing what’s got us to this point.”

The Tigers managed to find the form that made them one of the tourney favorites — even taking a brief lead after a furious rally — but the Titans outscored their hosts, 17-7, over the final four minutes for a 68-60 second-round win Saturday.

“We just put ourselves in a tough spot. I don’t think we necessarily ran out of gas. They made a couple shots down the stretch that we couldn’t match,” Croci said.

The 1,678 spectators at Pam Evans Smith Arena sat on their hands most of the night, but they became a rowdy presence during the second-half charge.

The Tigers, returning to the tourney after a four-year absence and playing at home for the first time since 2006, shaved the deficit to single digits early in the second half by scoring seven straight points in rapid fashion, five coming from Centerville native Mitch Balser.

Jordan Pumroy’s 3-pointer cut the gap to 49-47, and Jacob Bertemes drove for a basket to tie the game with 6:10 left.

The Tigers then took a 53-51 lead on Pumroy’s layup at 4:28. And the sophomore from Fairborn made one of two free throws for a 54-51 edge.

But Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which will take a 22-7 record into the Sweet 16, scored five consecutive points, including a pair of foul shots from Jack Flynn with three minutes to go for a 56-54 edge. Connor Seipel’s jumper tied it at 56 with 1:55 left. But the Titans answered with a trey from Ben Boots, who had a game-high 20 points, 11 seconds later.

After Roy scored inside, Charlie Noone knocked down a back-breaking 3-pointer from the corner with 1:06 to go for a 62-58 edge.

“We’re at Game 29 with these guys right here. We’ve been through a lot of battles,” said Wisconsin-Oshkosh coach Pat Juckem, flanked by Boots and Noone. “They’ve played now in three national tournaments. Just the mental toughness of these guys — they’re never rattled. They responded.

“We caught our breath, regrouped and made some winning plays. These guys make me look like a much smarter coach than I am.”

The Tigers, who had been 16-0 at home, shot 50 percent in the second half (41.1 for game) and had just five turnovers. Chad Roy scored a team-high 13 points, while Balser and Seipel had 10 each.

Though the defeat will be hard to shake, the Tigers had a season worth celebrating, going 27-3 and winning the NCAC regular-season and tourney titles.

It’s been a startling turnaround under Croci, who produced an 18-9 record in his first season last year with largely the same players that went 14-12 and 10-16 the two years before that.

Wittenberg is back to being Wittenberg again.

“Where the program was in the last handful of years — I’m proud of them,” Croci said.

With a nod to the seniors, he added: “They put our program back to where we feel it belongs. That’s not to sound arrogant or elitist. But this program has been at a high level for 60 years, and we felt we needed to get back to playing Tiger basketball — tough and gritty and being good teammates.

“It was a joy coming to work every day. When we get a little distance from (the loss), we’ll look back and feel good about our season.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Sports

High School Football Week 5 Roundup: Miamisburg stays unbeaten; Tipp and Fairmont roll
High School Football Week 5 Roundup: Miamisburg stays unbeaten; Tipp and Fairmont roll

In a Greater Western Ohio Conference showdown of unbeaten teams, visiting Miamisburg beat Troy 31-14 in high school football action on Friday.  Tate Vongsy hit Zion Lewis on a 15-yard scoring strike and tacked on a rushing score to help ‘Burg build up a 17-0 lead heading into the half. Lewis added a rushing TD in the fourth quarter to help...
High School Football: Week 5 boxscores, scores
High School Football: Week 5 boxscores, scores

Allen East 50, Delphos Jefferson 6 Alter 45, Fenwick 20 Anderson 47, Withrow 12 Badin 42, Roger Bacon 35, OT Bellbrook 21, Franklin 17 Bellefontaine 14, Ben Logan 6 Brookville 42, Carlisle 2 Butler 13, Xenia 7, OT Celina 42, Ottawa-Glandorf 24 Chaminade Julienne 61, Carroll 30 Cin. Country Day 28, New Miami 20 Clinton-Massie 34, Bishop Hartley 31 Col...
Glass makes most of second chance to lift Shawnee past Northwestern
Glass makes most of second chance to lift Shawnee past Northwestern

An athlete rarely gets a second chance to be a hero, especially on the football field. But that’s exactly where Shawnee High School junior Robie Glass found himself on Friday night against Northwestern. With Shawnee trailing 35-34 with 39 seconds remaining, Braves sophomore Drew Mitch — playing quarterback for the first time the entire...
Springfield beats Lebanon to stay undefeated
Springfield beats Lebanon to stay undefeated

The Springfield Wildcats reached the midway point of the regular season with a second straight dominant performance, blanking Lebanon 28-0 on Friday at Evans Stadium. How does it feel to be 5-0, a feat unparalleled in the 11-year history of the new high school? That was the question quarterback Raheim Moss faced after the game. "It's a blessing...
Top-ranked Northmont has no answer for Wayne QB McKee
Top-ranked Northmont has no answer for Wayne QB McKee

Wayne quarterback Rashad McKee riddled Northmont’s vaunted defense, throwing five touchdown passes and running for two more in a 49-20 Warriors defeat of the visiting Thunderbolts on Friday night. The midseason Week 5 win snapped Wayne’s (3-2) two-game losing streak and jump-started the Warriors’ season and Division I, Region 3 playoff...
More Stories