Coach Matt Croci saw Wittenberg's name on the NCAA Division III tournament selection show Monday and walked around the Hall of Honor lobby on campus slapping hands with his players.
"New life!" Croci repeated several times.
Two days after suffering their second loss of the season, 87-63 to Wooster in the North Coast Athletic Conference championship game, the No. 4 Tigers received some expected news — there was little doubt they would receive an at-large berth — but also a bit of surprising news in that they will play at home in the first round.
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Wittenberg (26-2) will play La Roche University (21-6) in the first round at 6 p.m. Friday at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. The Tigers will make their third NCAA tournament appearance in a row and 30th in school history. More than half of the bracket had been revealed on NCAA.com's live video when Wittenberg learned its fate.
"I think felt like we had done enough over the course of four months to get in," Croci said, "and I feel like we belong, but until you see your name up there, you never know. The longer it went, the guys were getting a little worried and stressed out, so to see us up there is great. We'll have to hit the reset the button and go to practice today and be ready to go."
Benedictine University (20-6) will play Susquehanna University (20-7) at Wittenberg in the other first-round game at 3 p.m. Friday. The Friday winners will play at 6 p.m. Saturday at Wittenberg.
This will be Wittenberg's third straight NCAA tournament appearance and 30th in school history.
"It's a blessing," senior guard Jordan Pumroy said. "You get to continue your career, play another game with these guys and be with the coaching staff. It's just awesome to be around them. I love this game so much. I can't see my life without it."
Wittenberg beat La Roche 74-68 in the first round of the tournament in 2011 at Marietta. La Roche received an automatic bid this season by winning the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. Senior Darius Lawrence made two free throws with 30 seconds remaining to lift La Roche to a 62-61 victory against Penn State-Behrend on Saturday.
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La Roche last played in the NCAA tournament in 2018, losing 52-39 at Johns Hopkins in the first round.
Wittenberg has lost in the second round of the tournament the last two seasons. It last advanced past the second round in 2012 when it reached the Elite Eight. The program has made seven Final Four appearances, mostly recently in 2006 when it reached the national championship game.
Croci hopes the team's recent NCAA tournament experience will help this season.
"It's not going to guarantee you success," Croci said, "but it does help in terms of preparation. The NCAA tournament is set up a little different. Your practice time and shoot-around times are a little bit more restricted than when you're playing in the regular season."
Wooster (21-7), making its 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance in the tournament in coach Steve Moore’s final season, will host games in the first round and will play Grove City (20-8) on Friday.
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