Wittenberg, Wooster to meet in NCAC championship game for 13th time

Wittenberg coach Matt Croci talks to the players during a game against Wabash on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

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Wittenberg coach Matt Croci talks to the players during a game against Wabash on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

Scots have won eight of 12 matchups

No. 22 Wittenberg and No. 12 Wooster will meet in the North Coast Athletic Conference championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday for the first time since 2014 and the 13th time overall.

The game will be played at Wooster’s Timken Gymnasium. The winner earns an automatic NCAA tournament berth, though both teams will have a strong case for earning an at-large bid. The field will be announced Monday.

“It’s another opportunity,” said Wittenberg senior Mitch Balser, who played his first two seasons at Wooster, in an interview posted to Twitter. “Nothing I love more than playing in the biggest games. That’s something I’m excited about. Honestly, I just want to cut down another net.”

“We’re excited to play another game,” Wittenberg coach Matt Croci said. “This rivalry will add to the intensity. Both teams want to get that AQ and cut down the nets and win the tournament. There’s a lot of pride involved.”

The Scots have won the last three championship game matchups against the Tigers and eight of 12. Wittenberg beat Ohio Wesleyan in the title game a year ago and seeks its first back-to-back crowns since 2005-06.

No. 2 seed Wittenberg (22-4), led by James Johnson’s 19 points, beat Wabash 89-75 in the second semifinal Friday. The top-seeded Scots (23-4) beat No. 4 seed DePauw 73-52 in the first game.

Here’s a look back at the four NCAC championship games in which Wittenberg beat Wooster:

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The front page of the Springfield News-Sun sports section on Feb. 26, 2006.

The front page of the Springfield News-Sun sports section on Feb. 26, 2006.

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The front page of the Springfield News-Sun sports section on Feb. 26, 2006.

2006: Wittenberg 71, Wooster 69

By Lucas Sullivan

WOOSTER — Revenge is not always sweet just because it is served. Sometimes it depends on how and when it is obtained.

Hence the phrase, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

For Wittenberg it couldn't have served its revenge on Wooster at a better time than in the finals of the North Coast Athletic Conference tournament.

The Tigers beat the topseeded Scots 71-69 Saturday in front of 3,317 fans in Timken Gym. And they did it with a stingy defense that held the Scots to their second lowest scoring output of the season and a cool 31 points below their season average.

The win also gives the Tigers (25-3) back-to-back NCAC titles for just the second time since joining the conference in 1988 and an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA tournament.

This was also Bill Brown's 300th win in 13 seasons as Wittenberg coach. The victory all but erases two tough losses to the Scots (25-3) earlier in the season.

"It's just still all a blur to me," said Brown, as he was getting ready to cut down the rest of net after the game. "Hopefully, it will sink in after I watch the tape, but right now it is all a blur."

Brown's head was spinning because after his Tigers took a 65-56 lead with 1:16 left, the Scots rallied back to within one point after sinking three 3-pointers in three possessions to make it 69-68 with 7 seconds left. Tigers senior post Dan Russ then hit two free throws to make it 71-68 and after a Wittenberg timeout, Pat Denbow purposely fouled Wooster's Kyle Witucky with 2.6 seconds left.

Witucky made the first free throw to make it 71-69 and purposely missed the second, with the ball going off a Tigers defender with .2 seconds left.

"It was unbelievable," Tigers starting post Phil Steffes said. "They just wouldn't stop coming and hitting those 3-pointers. But we weren't expecting anything other than that."

It seemed unbelievable because the Scots had almost erased a nine-point deficit and had a chance to at least tie the game.

But while Scots coach Steve Moore was asking that time be put back on the clock, Brown reminded the striped shirts that with the time remaining, all Wooster could do was tap it in. The referees then huddled, disagreed with Moore and made it aware to everyone that all Wooster could do was tap the ball in the basket with the time remaining.

That's when the rally ended.

"This has to be one of the best games in Division III history," Steffes said. "It was crazy. That was a long two minutes. If there is a better game in D-III I would be really surprised."

2005: Wittenberg 61, Wooster 59

By David Jablonski

WOOSTER — Wittenberg men's basketball coach Bill Brown had to make one stop Saturday on his way to Wooster's Timken Gymnasium, where his Tigers would decide the North Coast Athletic Conference championship and their NCAA tournament fate.

Brown walked into a local Wal-Mart and bought Gatorade, oranges and scissors.

A few hours later the 12-year veteran wept as he climbed the ladder at Wooster to cut down the net with his brand new shears, after his No. 2 seed Tigers beat the top-seeded Scots 61-59 to win the NCAC tournament for the second time in four years.

"It was not an arrogant way or anything, but we wanted to cut down some nets today in Wooster," said Brown, whose Tigers will now wait for the NCAA tournament draw tonight at 10:30 to see where and who they play. "You couldn't guarantee there was going to be a game after this so our No. 1 goal was to get it done here today.

"I'm a little bit (emotional) that way. I don't work any harder than Wooster does, but I work really hard. When you put a lot of work into something, it hurts when you lose, but it feels really good when you win sometimes."

Wittenberg had the opposite feeling a season ago when it lost 100-71 to Wooster in Springfield in the NCAC tournament championship. This time, the roles were reversed.

Wittenberg's victory marks the third time in the rivalry's history that the Scots (26-2) have grabbed the No. 1 ranking on a Tuesday only to have the Tigers (25-3) beat them on a Saturday.

"There are so many things to talk about," Brown said. "What a difference a day makes."

2002: Wittenberg 58, Wooster 57

By Keith Walther

SPRINGFIELD — It was an eerily similar situation to the closing seconds in last year's North Coast Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament final.

You'll have to excuse the Wittenberg Tigers for preferring this year's ending.

Wooster's Antwyan Reynolds' off-balance 28-footer at the buzzer missed its mark, setting off a frenzied celebration at mid-court as Wittenberg claimed a 58-57 victory in front of 2,310 fans at the HPER Center on Saturday night.

“Reynolds' shot seemed like it was in the air forever,'' Witt senior Greg Rustad said. “But when it bounced off the front of the rim ... well, you can't top that feeling.”

It was Reynolds who found the mark on a 3-pointer that gave Wooster a 59-56 win and an automatic berth into the Division III NCAA tournament a year ago to beat the regular season champion Tigers. This year, however, that privilege goes to Wittenberg (25-3).

“It is really difficult to win a regular season championship and then go into a tournament and play a team of high, high quality like Wooster _ and (beat) them for the third time (this season),' a jubilant, yet exhausted, Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said moments after his team cut down the HPER Center nets.

How difficult was it? The Tigers led only once in the game _ that is until Rustad provided the margin of victory with three made free throws with 10.8 seconds.

Trailing 57-55 with under 20 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down, Rustad went one-on-one on the perimeter against Wooster's Matt Smith. Rustad pulled up, faked the 3-pointer and drew contact from Smith, who had left his feet on the fake. The foul was called, and Rustad calmly sank all three freebies.

“All these teams fly at me, thinking I'm a shooter,'' an emotionally spent Rustad said. “I had the clear out and I knew Smith was going to try to block my shot. I knew I could get him in the air and then draw contact and he fouled me. He came at me, went into the air, and I can lean forward a little bit.”

And the senior, saying he “wasn't about to let his teammates down” was steady as a rock under the pressure of the moment.

“In the first half, Greg had three free throws on a foul off a 3-pointer and he looked bad up there (making just one),” Brown said. “Now he has to step back up there at that point in the game and they were just in the bottom (of the net). It was just a really heads-up play on Greg's part.”

1991: Wittenberg 65, Wooster 48

Staff Reports

WOOSTER — Kris Spriggs scored 15 points to lead Wittenberg to its second consecutive NCAC title. Greg Periatt, Brad Baldridge and P.J. Bertemes added 10 points each for Wittenberg (26-2).

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