Tigers March Into NCAA Round Of 16 With Big Win Over Carroll
LEXINGTON, Ky. — It couldn't have come at a better time. After struggling down the stretch of the 2011-12 season, the Wittenberg men's basketball team put together perhaps its finest performance to date in an 87-70 NCAA Division III Tournament victory over Carroll (Wisc.) in a game played at Transylvania University.
The win, which came less than 24 hours after a 63-56 first-round win over Birmingham-Southern, moved the Tigers into the Round of 16 for the 16th time in 26 NCAA Division III appearances. Wittenberg advanced to face North Central College, which defeated Washington University, at a site to be determined on Friday, March 9.
Heading into the game against Carroll, a surprise 12-point victor over host Transylvania a night earlier, Tiger fans probably couldn't help but take note of the similarities between the Pioneers and Wittenberg's upstart North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament semifinal opponent, Denison. Like the Big Red, Carroll had picked up steam in the final weeks of the season and carried a win streak into the match-up opposite the Tigers.
But unlike Denison, the Pioneers were not allowed to jump out to a big early lead. The Tigers struggled from the outset in the Feb. 24 NCAC Tournament contest, falling behind 22-4 and expending too much energy just trying to get back into the game before losing by eight. Against Carroll, the Tigers came out strong, turning an 8-6 deficit with 14:19 remaining in the first half into a commanding 22-8 lead by stringing together 16 straight points over the next five minutes.
Photo by Joseph Rey Au
After the run, the Tigers capped their best offensive half of the season by carrying a 48-30 lead into the locker room. It was Wittenberg's highest point total in a half during the 2011-12 season, topping the 47 points scored in the first half of an 80-54 win over Monmouth (Ill.) during the Charles B. Zimmerman Memorial Classic on Dec. 29 in Springfield.
Over the final 20 minutes, Wittenberg kept Carroll at arm's length thanks to continued solid shooting and an absolutely dominant performance on the glass. The Tigers outrebounded Carroll 39-22 in the game, led by senior Josh McKee (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) with 10 boards, part of his first career double-double (12 points).
The game's top scorer was senior Michael Cooper (Springfield, Ohio/South), who poured in 18 points and four rebounds. Senior Clayton Black (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) added 13 points and four rebounds, and senior Alex Brandt (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy) was solid as well, finishing with 10 points and six boards.
For the second straight night, Wittenberg finished above 50 percent shooting from the field, knocking down 29-of-54. That included another solid performance from long distance, as the Tigers finishing 11-of-26 from three-point range. Carroll shot the ball well also, finishing at 46 percent from the field, including 44 from beyond the arc, but the Pioneers were just 15-of-25 from the free throw line.