With 22 hours to prepare for the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament, Wittenberg Tigers coach Matt Croci was asked if he would stay up late or get up early to prepare.
“Both,” Croci said Friday night. “If I get any sleep at all.”
The third-ranked Tigers (27-2) will play No. 24 Wisconsin-Oshkosh (21-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pam Evans Smith Arena after routing Misericordia 91-61 in the first round Friday. It was the most lopsided NCAA tournament game for Wittenberg since a 76-40 victory against Lake Erie in the first round in 2006.
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This game turned as soon as Wittenberg’s guards started making shots, and they didn’t miss much early. Jake Bertemes made two 3-pointers and then a jump shot in the first two minutes.
Misericordia realized then its plan to double-team Wittenberg’s big men, Chad Roy and Connor Seipel, wouldn’t work. Those two players combined for 52 points in Wittenberg’s previous game, an 82-70 victory against Ohio Wesleyan in the NCAC championship.
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“We prepared for a lot of things, one was the double team on the post,” Croci said. “Without knowing a lot about our opponent, other than film, we said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be ready. It could come from different guys. It could come on the dribble, on the catch. We don’t know. But there are a lot of things we’ve got to be prepared for.’ The first thing is the bigs made great passes out. They were willing to pass the ball out. Jake made a couple big shots early, which just set the tone. You could just see them after the second (3-pointer) immediately look to the bench and say, ‘Are we still doubling?’ That was a big gust of wind in our sails going forward and got us off to a great start.”
Misericordia (17-11) hung with Wittenberg for the first 10 minutes, but the Tigers took control with a 14-2 run and led 54-31 at halftime.
“Our plan was to double and make the guards make shots because watching them on film, they weren’t making shots recently,” Misericordia coach Willie Chandler said. “I thought it would work out, but they made shots, and they adjusted to what we were doing offensively.”
The Tigers (27-2) shot 62.9 percent in the first half and built a 54-31 halftime lead. They pushed the lead to 69-39 in the first six minutes of the second half.
Bertemes scored 15 of his team-high 17 points in the first half. Chad Roy scored 12. Mitch Balser and Connor Seipel each had 11 points. Rashaad Ali-Shakir scored 10 points off the bench.
The Tigers shot 57.6 percent from the field in the game and had a 43-23 rebounding advantage.
Wittenberg had never played Misericordia, and Saturday’s game be the first meeting between Wittenberg and Oshkosh, which earned an at-large berth for the second straight season.
“I’m going to need a stepstool to look at half their guys,” Croci said. “They’re huge. We really focused all of our energy on tonight’s game. We’ve had some of our coaching staff looking at film of Marietta and Oshkosh to get ready. (Oshkosh) is big. They run really good motion offense. They’ve got a couple guards who can really handle the ball. They’ve potentially got some matchup issues for us. They’re reall good. You don’t get out of the Wisconsin league and make the NCAA tournament without being really good.”
Oshkosh finished third in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Titans are 8-7 in eight trips to the NCAA tournament. It reached the third round in 2003.
This was Wittenberg’s first NCAA tournament game at home since 2006 when it beat Transylvania 74-61 in the sectional championship to reach the Final Four in Salem, Va. The Tigers played their first four games at home that season and will do so again if they keep advancing.