The Wittenberg Tigers have made it look easy most of the season, winning games by an average of 17.8 points. They rank seventh in the nation in scoring margin.
Wittenberg beat Capital at the buzzer and had two other games decided by four points or less. For the most part, however, blowouts have littered the road to 18-0.
The No. 3 Tigers recorded another double-digit victory Wednesday, beating DePauw 76-64 at Pam Evans Smith Arena to improve to 11-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference and maintain a three-game lead over Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan with seven games to play. Even though the result against DePauw was never in doubt, it won’t go down as a smooth victory.
“I was really proud of the grit and toughness of our guys,” coach Matt Croci said.
Wittenberg led by 23 early in the second half. DePauw trimmed the deficit to 46-42 with 11:53 remaining. That’s when Wittenberg righted itself, pushing the lead back to double digits on a 4-point possession by Jordan Pumroy at the 9:33 mark.
Pumroy made one free throw, missed the second one but rebounded the miss and scored. He was fouled on the shot and made the free throw. The Tigers extended their lead to 56-44. It was the second time in four games Pumroy has rebounded his own missed free throw and scored.
Pumroy, who had 13 points, was one of four Tigers in double digits on a night when they were missing two key contributors: Jake Bertemes and Landon Martin, who combine to average 18.3 points per game. Neither has a serious injury.
“Just typical end-of-January bumps and bruises,” Croci said.
GAME PHOTOS: Wittenberg vs. DePauw
Jordan Welch and Mark Fair, who had seen limited action in the first 17 games, moved into the rotation to replace Bertemes and Martin. Welch had two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Fair had two points and one rebound in eight minutes.
“For us to dip into the bench a little bit and play a couple guys who haven’t played a bunch, I’m really proud of them,” Croci said. “They were locked in. There was no drop off from what we would normally get. It’s important for our program to have the next-man-up mentality.”
Mitch Balser led Wittenberg with a season-high 23 points. Chad Roy had 15 points and nine rebounds. Rashaad Ali-Shakir scored 10.
Balser expected DePauw (7-11, 3-8) to make a run in the second half. DePauw played Wittenberg close in December before Wittenberg pulled away in the final minutes for a 77-64 victory.
“To be able to fight that adversity is really good for our team,” Balser said. “I was happy to see our team respond to that.”
Wittenberg now sits eight wins away from matching the 1993-94 Wittenberg team that set the school and NCAC record with 26 wins in a row. Croci was a senior on that team.
“I guess you could say we’re chasing it, but we’re really focused on the next game, stuff like that,” Pumroy said. “(Croci) tries to keep us away from thinking of stuff like that. We stay humble as much as we can and keep moving forward.”