Wittenberg basketball off to best start since 1993

10:58 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 Sports
Wittenberg coach Matt Croci talks at practice on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2017, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. DAVID JABLONSKI / STAFF

The Wittenberg Tigers can’t wrap a 9-0 start and put it under the Christmas tree. If they could, that would be a great present for second-year coach Matt Croci.

This is the first perfect start through nine games for Wittenberg since 1993-94 when the Tigers reached 26-0 in Bill Brown’s first season and Croci’s senior season. Three years ago, Wittenberg didn’t win its ninth game until Feb. 7.

» EARLIER COVERAGE: Croci on impact of Roy, Balser

Wittenberg enjoyed an 8-0 record for 11 days because it had a break for exams after beating Denison 86-55 on Dec. 9. It will enjoy 9-0 for nine days.

Wittenberg beat Heidelberg 89-85 on Wednesday and doesn’t play again until the Charles B. Zimmerman Memorial Classic at Pam Evans Smith Arena. Wittenberg plays Ohio University Chillicothe (4-6) on Dec. 29 and Marietta (7-2) on Dec. 30. Both games start at 7 p.m.

The Heidelberg victory was one of the toughest of the season. Wittenberg trailed 49-38 at halftime and rallied in the second half.

“Proud is the right word,” Croci said Thursday. “We haven’t been in that situation all year. As a coach, you’re wondering if you’ve got enough intestinal fortitude to fight back and climb back. We learned a lot about ourselves for sure. Heidelberg was really good in the first half and made a lot of shots and hurt us on the offensive glass. We needed to guard better.”

Wittenberg shot 60.6 percent from the floor in the second half compared to 40.6 for Heidelberg. Chad Roy and Mitchell Balser led the Tigers with 20 points.

Croci’s halftime speech may have helped. He challenged the team to dig deep.

“I was frustrated with how we played,” Croci said. “There were a couple of small adjustments offensively. We really just challenged them on the defensive end. Heidelberg was extremely athletic.”

» RELATED: Wittenberg beats Capital at buzzer

Wittenberg has shot better than 50 percent from the field three games in a row and in seven of nine games. It ranks 12th in the country in field-goal percentage (51.4). Roy (14.4), Balser (13.7) and Connor Seipel (13.1) lead the team in scoring.

After playing in the Zimmerman Classic at Wittenberg, the Tigers jump back into North Coast Athletic Conference play Jan. 3 at Kenyon. The Tigers share first place at 4-0 with Ohio Wesleyan. Hiram (4-1), Denison (3-1) and Wooster (3-2) trail the leaders.

“At our level, Division III, it’s all about the automatic berth, winning your conference tournament,” Croci said. “You’re trying to put yourself into the best possible position. We want to win the league. We want to win the regular season.”

Women’s basketball: The Tigers (6-6) take a three-game winning streak into the Christmas break. They beat Heidelberg 75-53 on Thursday. Sydney Mayle scored 17 points. Delaney Williams had 11. Alex Kiess and Kristie Kalis had 10 each.

Wittenberg returns to action against Susquehanna at 2:15 p.m. Dec. 29 in the Zimmerman Classic.