Wittenberg Tigers seek history in NCAC tournament

Wittenberg’s Landon Martin is introduced before a game against Ohio Wesleyan in the semifinals of the NCAC tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. Wittenberg photo
Wittenberg’s Landon Martin is introduced before a game against Ohio Wesleyan in the semifinals of the NCAC tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. Wittenberg photo

The Wittenberg Tigers have never won three straight North Coast Athletic Conference tournament championships. That goal is within reach this weekend at Pam Evans Smith Arena.

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“That is something certainly that that we’ve talked about as a program,” Wittenberg coach Matt Croci said. “If there’s an opportunity to win a championship and that’s on the line, our guys are going to go after it. If we can do something that hasn’t been done here before, that’s icing on the cake.”

No. 4 Wittenberg (25-1), the top seed in the tournament, plays No. 5 seed Oberlin (15-11) at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Pam Evans Smith Arena. The other semifinal matches No. 3 Wooster (19-7) vs. No. 7 Denison (11-15) at 7:30 p.m.

Wittenberg beat Wooster 79-75 in the championship game last season at Wooster and beat Ohio Wesleyan 82-70 in the final two seasons ago in Springfield.

Wooster won four straight titles from 2009-12 and three straight from 1999-2001. Prior to the last two seasons, Wittenberg won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006 and also in 1990 and 1991.

To get to the championship game, the Tigers have to get by Oberlin. Wittenberg swept the regular-season series, winning 66-56 at Oberlin on Nov. 26 and 63-51 in Springfield on Jan. 25.

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Oberlin won a NCAC tournament game for the first time since 1992 on Tuesday, beating No. 4 seed DePauw 75-63 on the road. It finished 8-10 in the NCAC in the regular season. That’s its best record ever in the league.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for them,” Croci said. “They’ve got a lot of seniors and juniors that have been playing for a long time and built the program up to where it is now. Both of the games with them this year, they played really well and did some things that caused some issues for us. We’ll look to correct those and play a little bit better.”

Even if Wittenberg doesn’t win the NCAC tournament, it should earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Division III tournament. The selection show starts at 12:30 p.m. Monday and can be watched on NCAA.com.

“You obviously want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year,” Croci said. “I think we are playing pretty well right now. We definitely want to have the mentality that we are keeping our foot on the pedal and try to be aggressive and play well. Our guys want to win this tournament. It’s a big deal to us. We feel good about winning the regular season and having the opportunity to host, but we’ve got a lot of really competitive guys in the program. There’s an opportunity to win a championship this weekend, and they want to be part of that. We’re not looking ahead to next week. We’re not worrying about that at all.”