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

Feb 13, 2018
Wittenberg celebrates after a victory against DePauw on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

The 22-game winning streak ended Saturday for the Wittenberg Tigers. Coach Matt Croci didn’t care so much about that. Breaking the school record for consecutive victories wasn’t a goal, even if it got everyone talking about his team.

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.