SPRINGFIELD, Ohio – Over the game's first 11 minutes, the Wittenberg Tigers played like a team coming off a long holiday lay-off. As they have so many times over three decades of holiday tournaments, the Tigers responded to the challenge, rallying from an early eight-point deficit to post a 65-58 win in the first round of the 2012 Charles B. Zimmerman Memorial Classic.
The win moved the Tigers into the championship game against Taylor (Ind.) at 7 p.m. Saturday. Taylor reached the title match with a 77-63 win over Hanover in the opening game of the two-day competition.
The Tigers struggled in the early going, turning the ball over a whopping nine times in the first 11 minutes as Bethany built a 17-9 advantage. From that point, Wittenberg rallied for a 23-23 tie by halftime, thanks in large part to better ball security that resulted in just two turnovers.
The Tigers opened a seven-point lead early in the second half and maintained it thanks outstanding shooting, including 50 percent from the field and a sizzling 16-of-19 from the free throw line. Most importantly, Wittenberg hit 6-of-8 from the charity stripe over the final 1:31 to thwart Bethany's rally and secure the victory.
For the game, Wittenberg shot 43 percent from the field, including 7-of-16 from three-point range, and 87 percent on 23 attempts from the free throw line. The Tigers committed 20 turnovers to just four for the Bison, but that disparity was countered by Wittenberg's significant edge in rebounding (47-31).
Individually, junior guard Zack Leahy (Rossford, Ohio/Rossford) celebrated his 21st birthday with a game-high 18 points, including a perfect 8-of-8 on free throws, to go along with a career-high nine rebounds and three assists. Sophomore wing Sam Collins (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Cleveland Heights) added 11 points and five rebounds, junior forward Scott Masin (New Carlisle, Ohio/Bethel) finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore guard Ben Syroka (Toledo, Ohio/Whitmer) chipped in with 10 points and five rebounds off the bench.
Wittenberg improved to 8-2 overall, while Bethany dropped to 9-2 after shooting 35 percent from the field and making just 6-of-15 from the free throw line.