Wittenberg celebrates after a victory against DePauw on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

Wittenberg’s Croci: First loss ‘wakes you up a little bit’

No. 5 Tigers play Ohio Wesleyan and Wooster in final week of regular season

Croci hates losing. The same goes for his players, though they were more disappointed in their performance than the result, a 94-71 loss at Hiram.

“That’s a positive, that they know they didn’t play well and we got beat by a better team that day, ” said Croci’s of his team’s attitude. “It certainly wakes you up a little bit. Everybody’s playing well right now. A lot of teams have a lot to play for, so you’ve got to be ready to go.”

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The Tigers (22-1, 15-1) fell four victories short of tying the school record. The loss dropped them from No. 3 in the D3Hoops.com poll to No. 5 this week. No. 1 Whitman (23-0) remains the only defeated team. Wittenberg is the only one-loss team.

The defeat also means Wittenberg has to win one of its two remaining regular-season games to win the North Coast Athletic Conference championship outright. Neither game is an easy task. The Tigers play at third-place Ohio Wesleyan (15-8, 10-6) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and host second-place Wooster (19-4, 13-3) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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The Ohio Wesleyan game is difficult enough there’s no worry about Wittenberg looking ahead to the Senior Night game against their biggest rival. Wittenberg beat Ohio Wesleyan at home 93-72 on Jan. 17.

“They’re still the three-time defending league champs, so they’re very good,” Croci said. “They’re very talented. They have seniors who have been through a lot of these big games. We know we’re in for a battle. We’ve got to guard better and execute offensively and know we’re in for a challenge. I think we’ll be up for it.”

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Wittenberg will have to play better defense than it did at Hiram. Wittenberg allowed 80 or more points in a game once in the first 22 games, and it gave up a season-high 94 to the Terriers. Hiram shot 60.3 percent (35 of 58) from the field and 47.6 percent (10 of 21) from 3-point range.

“We just didn’t defend very well,” Croci said. “They made a lot of shots, but there are some things we have been doing and did not do well on Saturday. Hiram took advantage of it and shot a great percentage. That’s probably the biggest takeaway. We’ve got to get back to guarding with a chip on our shoulder.”

Ticket info: Wittenberg is selling tickets for $5 for the Wooster game at the HPER Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Friday. They are general-admission tickets. Buying tickets ahead of time will allow fans to skip waiting in line Saturday. Students and senior citizens get free tickets with a valid ID.

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