Wittenberg reacts to earning NCAA tournament berth

Wittenberg Tigers heading to North Carolina for NCAA tournament

The team watched the unveiling of the bracket at the HPER Center. There wasn’t much suspense. They’ve known since Saturday they would play in the tournament, having earned the North Coast Athletic Conference’s automatic bid by beating Wooster 79-75 in the NCAC championship game.

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The only question for the 22nd-ranked Tigers: Who would they play? Where would they play?

The answer: No. 23 Emory College in the first round Friday at a time to be announced on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.

Coach Matt Croci said he didn’t know what to expect when it came to the tournament draw.

“Other than us getting in, that’s about all I knew,” Croci said. “It takes the edge off of watching the show a little bit. Then you have the anticipation of where you’re going to go and who’s in your pod and things like that.”

The Tigers (23-5) head to the NCAA tournament with a 10-game winning streak. This will be their 35th appearance in the national tournament. They lost 68-60 to Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the second round last season at Pam Evans Smith Arena.

This will be the fourth time Wittenberg has started the NCAA tournament on the road in its last five appearances. No. 12 Wooster will host first- and second-round games despite losing two of three games to Wittenberg.

“At this point, there are only 16 teams in the country that can host,” Croci said. “We would have loved to play at home. I think we’re pretty good at home, but we’re still playing.”

Two victories against Wooster on its home court this month give Wittenberg confidence it can win on the road.

“If we can win there, we can win in any environment,” said junior forward Connor Seipel, who leads the Tigers with 17.9 points per game.

Emory (20-5), which is located in Atlanta, earned a bid by winning the University Athletic Association championship. It’s playing in the NCAA tournament for the seventh straight season and reached the Sweet 16 four times in its previous six trips.

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Wittenberg or Emory will play Guilford (21-7) or Sewanee (22-6) in the second round Saturday. Guilford won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament by upsetting No. 5 Randolph Macon 70-59. Sewanee earned its first bid since 1997 by Centre 62-59 in the Southern Athletic Association championship game.

Wittenberg will play in the NCAA tournament in two straight seasons for the first time since 2010, when they lost 63-62 in the second round to Marietta, and 2011, when they lost 70-49 in the Elite Eight to Illinois Wesleyan.

The sting of losing at home in the second round a year ago will provide motivation this week.

“We have avoided talking about that all year for a good reason,” Croci said, “but now that we’re in and talking about the NCAA tournament again, I definitely think the guys think we could have gone longer than we did. It was a good learning experience.”

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