- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Matt Croci and P.J. Bertemes were teammates for two years in the Wittenberg basketball program in the early 1990s. Now Croci’s coaching Bertemes’ son Jake, so he can compare the two as well as anyone.
“P.J. was a little bigger and stronger,” Croci said. “Jake is probably a little more athletic. But in many ways, they’re similar. They certainly look alike, which I know Jake hates to hear.”
The Tigers traveled to Canada for a preseason trip, and Croci said his mom spent the entire time calling Jake by his dad’s name. After Tuesday’s game, though, Jake is well on his way to creating his own legacy at Wittenberg.
SEASON PREVIEW: Tigers confident in Croci’s second year
Bertemes, a sophomore guard from Southeastern High School, made a layup at the buzzer to beat Capital 79-77 at Pam Evans Smith Arena. The Tigers improved to 3-0, and they’ll put that mark on the line at 4 p.m. Sunday at Otterbein.
The game-winning play against Capital started when freshman guard Rashaad Ali-Shakir threw a pass from under the opposite basket. Bertemes caught it near the 3-point line in front of the Wittenberg bench, took one dribble and scored. One day after the dramatic victory, Croci explained the play.
“It’s a full-court late clock set that we run,” Croci said. “We practice it all the time so the guys know it. They recognized it. We were fortunate to have a timeout to remind them where they needed to go. They executed it perfectly. The biggest thing we talked to them about in the huddle was with two seconds left, as long as the ball was caught past half court, they would have time to bounce it once. Don’t panic and catch and turn and throw it up there.
“As long as the pass went behind half court, make a good catch. Take a dribble to balance yourself and take a good shot. Jake made a hell of a catch and came down and had the poise to recognize there was time and nobody was in front of him. He got all the way in there and made a heck of a play.”
Bertemes was one of several options on the play. Ali-Shakir entered the game just to make the pass.
“(Ali-Shakir) did a good job of giving himself some space,” Croci said. “Capital put a 6-6 guy on the ball. That’s why the pass went so high. He had to get it over his hands.”
LOOKING BACK: Croci reflects on first season
The Tigers opened the season the previous weekend at the Great Lakes Invitational in Marietta with a 78-74 victory against Mount St. Joseph and an 86-63 victory over Birmingham Southern.
Chad Roy is leading the Tigers with 15 points per game. Mitchell Balser is averaging 12.3. Conner Seipel is averaging 11.7. Bertemes and Roy each scored 13 points against Capital.
Bertemes, a first-year starter, is averaging 9.7 points and 3.7 assists. He appeared in nine games last season and averaged 4.7 minutes per game but saw most of his action at the end of the season.
“We made a concerted effort to get him some meaningful minutes last year,” Croci said. “We knew we needed some guys who were ready. Jake’s worked really hard. He accepted he had to change a few things in his game from high school to college, and he’s been willing to do that. We’ve known he was going to have a really good year. It’s fun to see him get some success early in the season.”