- By David Jablonski Staff Writer
Wittenberg Tigers coach Matt Croci’s wife Patrice shared a video to Instagram of the team celebrating in the locker room after a 78-77 overtime victory Saturday against Wooster.
The second-year coach Croci was in the middle of the chaos as the team jumped up and down. Someone threw water on him. His shirt was soaked.
In the background were a few familiar faces — at least for those who have followed Wittenberg basketball for the last 15 years — not in uniform. Dane Borchers and Dan Russ, two key members of the national runner-up team in 2006, were among the 21 Wittenberg basketball alumni who joined the team in the locker room at Croci’s invitation.
“We have a long and rich tradition here,” Croci said Monday before practice, “so to have all those guys back for the alumni game and then in there celebrating with our guys, that just means so much to our players. I know those guys enjoyed being back for a really cool atmosphere and a lot of fun. It connects the old and the new. It was really cool.”
» GAME STORY: Tigers rally to beat Wooster
Fifth-ranked Wittenberg (23-2, 16-2) clinched its first outright North Coast Athletic Conference championship since 2012. That was also the last time it swept the regular-season series from Wooster, and it also beat Wooster in overtime in Springfield that season.
This latest victory will rank among the best games in the series. Jake Bertemes capped a 10-point comeback in the final 90 seconds with a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Then he won the game with a 3-point play with 1 second left in overtime.
“It was a tough call for them,” Bertemes said of the foul called on the play. “He just kind of brushed my side.”
The Tigers move into the NCAC tournament as the No. 1 seed. They play No. 8 seed Oberlin (12-13, 6-12) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Springfield.
» RELATED: Freshman playing key roles for Wittenberg
Wittenberg beat Oberlin 78-65 on Nov. 29 in Springfield and 77-56 on Feb. 3 in Oberlin.
“We had two really competitive games with Oberlin,” Croci said. “The first game here we only won by 13, and they were missing one of their best players. The second game, it was a one-possession game at halftime. We know we have to be ready to go tomorrow, and we’ll worry about who were playing Friday if we get there.”
If Wittenberg wins Tuesday, it would play No. 4 seed Hiram (15-10, 11-7) or No. 5 seed Denison (14-11, 10-8) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at Pam Evans Smith Arena. No. 3 seed Ohio Wesleyan (17-8, 12-6) hosts No. 6 DePauw (11-14, 7-11), and No. 2 Wooster (20-5, 14-4) hosts No. 7 DePauw (11-14, 7-11) in the other quarterfinals Tuesday.