Tigers & Scots Bow Out Of NCAA Tourney

Wooster senior Spencer Williams (L) and Wittenberg junior Mitch Balser (R)
Wooster senior Spencer Williams (L) and Wittenberg junior Mitch Balser (R)

The 2018 North Coast men’s basketball season came to a close on Saturday night with Wittenberg (27-3) and Wooster (22-7) both dropping hard-fought contests in the second round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament. Despite a furious second-half comeback attempt, Wittenberg wasn’t able to overcome a 34-19 halftime deficit as the Tigers dropped a 68-60 decision against Wisconsin-Oshkosh (22-7) Springfield, while Wooster (22-7) had an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers in a 91-85 loss against John Carroll (25-5) in University Heights, Ohio.

Still facing a 10-point deficit at 49-39 with 10:14 left in the game, Wittenberg got a much-needed spark with a 10-0 run that evened the score at 49-49 with 6:10 left in the game on a layup from sophomore Jacob Bertemes (Springfield, OH/Southeastern). The Tigers took a 54-51 lead at the 4:00 minute mark following a free throw from sophomore Jordan Pumroy (Fairborn, OH/Fairborn), but UWO’s Charlie Noone answered with a three on the ensuing possession to even the score back up at 54-54. 

After sophomore Connor Seipel (Columbus, OH/Groveport Madison) hit a jumper at the 1:59 mark to even the score at 56-56, the Titan’s got a pair of clutch three-pointers from Ben Boots and Noone on their next two possessions to extend the lead back out to four, 62-58, with a minute left to play. Boots then connected of six-of-six free throw attempts in the final minute of action to help the Titans secure the eight-point upset win over the Tigers.

Despite holding a 37-29 edge in the rebounding column, the Tigers couldn’t keep pace with the Titans behind the three-point arc as UWO shot 41 percent (9-of-22) from long distance compared to just 25 percent (4-of-16) for Wittenberg. 

Senior Chad Roy (Toledo, OH/Holland Springfield) led the Tigers in scoring in his final collegiate game with 13 points, while Seipel and junior Mitch Balser (Centerville, OH/Centerville) also finished the game with 10 points each. Boots led all scorers in the game with 20 points, while Noone and Adam Fravert each chipped in 12 points for the Titans.

In the second game of the night, the Fighting Scots found themselves in an early 10-0 hole against John Carroll, but Wooster got back to form and pulled with three at 33-30 with 2:45 left in the half on a jumper from sophomore Danyon Hempy (Waldo, OH/River Valley). JCU did end the half on a mini 7-3 run to take a 40-33 lead into the break. 

It was slow treading early on in the second half as a layup from Wooster junior Reece Dupler (Newark, OH/Lakewood) at the 19:14 mark was the only score for either team in the first three-plus minutes of action.  With the two teams eventually settled into the pace of play, Wooster pulled within two at 47-45 with 13:51 left in the game on another layup from Dupler. 

The Blue Streaks then reeled off 12 of the game’s next 18 points and held a 59-51 advantage over Wooster with 10 minutes left to play. JCU then appeared to be pulling away late with an 85-73 lead at the 1:44 mark on a pair of free throws from John Cirillo, but Wooster wouldn’t go down without a fight, scoring 10 points in just over a minute of game action to pull within four, 87-83, with 29 seconds left on a layup from senior Spencer Williams (Warrensville Heights, OH/Orange). However, JCU hit a pair of clutch free throws and got another bucket from Brian Papich in the final 30 seconds to secure the six-point win over the Scots. 

While Wooster shot 52 percent from the field, it truly was the turnover column that did the Scots in as they committed 17 turnovers compared to just eight for the Blue Streaks.

Dupler led the Scots with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field, while Hempy added 20 and Williams scored 10 points and dished out five assists in his final collegiate game. Four different players hit double-figures for JCU, led by Matthew Csuhran coming off the bench and scoring a game-high 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field.

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North Coast men’s basketball teams went 2-0 in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday (3/2) night as Wittenberg (27-2) cruised to a 91-61 home win over Misericordia and Wooster (22-6) posted a hard-fought 72-68 win over Illinois Wesleyan in University Heights, Ohio. Both teams will now advance to the second round with 7:00 p.m. matchups on Saturday night that feature Wittenberg hosting Wisconsin-Oshkosh (21-7) and the Scots taking on host John Carroll (24-5) in University Heights.

After holding a 20-18 lead over Misericordia (17-11) with 11:57 left in the first half, Wittenberg closed out the opening period on a 34-13 run and continued to roll into the second half en route to posting the 91-61 opening-round victory over the Cougars. Four of Wittenberg’s starters scored in double figures in the 30-point win, led by sophomore Jacob Bertemes (Springfield, OH/Southeastern) finishing the game with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and one steal, while classmate Connor Seipel (Columbus, OH/Groveport Madison), the 2018 NCAC Tournament MVP, finished just two rebounds shy of a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds. As a team, the Tigers shot 58 percent (38-of-66) from the field and outrebounded the Cougars by a 43-23 margin over the course of the contest.

Wooster gutted out a 72-68 victory over Illinois Wesleyan (19-8) in the opening round on Friday night at the DeCarlo Varsity Center on the campus of John Carroll University. The Scots held a 35-31 edge at halftime and extended their lead out to 10 at 54-44 with 12:07 left in the game on a three pointer from sophomore Trenton Tipton (St. Clairsville, OH/Union Local). The Titans clawed their way back and cut the Scots’ lead to two, 54-52, with 8:36 left on a pair of free throws from Brady Rose, but Wooster immediately answered with back-to-back scores from juniors Reece Dupler (Newark, OH/Lakewood) and Blake Blair (Dover, OH/Dover). After IWU closed within three, 65-62, with 2:10 left in the game on a layup from Tyler Burdine, Dupler took matters into his own hands by sinking seven-of-eight free throw attempts in the final two minutes to secure the four-point victory for the Scots. While Dupler finished the game with 15 total points, sophomore Danyon Hempy (Waldo, OH/River Valley) led the Scots in scoring with 20 points and senior Alex Baptiste (Allones, France/Wasatch Acad., UT) finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 12 rebounds and nine points. Rose led the Titans with 31 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field, while teammate Alex O’Neill notched a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.

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For the first time since 2014, the top seed came away with the title in the 2018 NCAC Men’s Basketball Tournament as Wittenberg (26-2) posted an 82-70 win over Ohio Wesleyan (19-9) in the championship game on Saturday at Pam Evans Smith Arena in Springfield, Ohio. It marked the Tigers’ first conference tournament title since 2006. Wittenberg opened the tournament on Tuesday with a 70-54 win over Oberlin (12-14) in the quarterfinals, before securing its spot in the title game with a 97-73 win over Denison (15-12) in the semifinals on Friday night. Ohio Wesleyan advanced to the championship game after winning a pair of overtime games against Wabash (12-14), 89-86, in the quarters and Wooster (21-5), 88-87, in the semis. After notching his fourth double-double of the season in the championship game with 28 points and 10 rebounds, Wittenberg sophomore Connor Seipel (Columbus, OH/Groveport, Madison) collected the Al Van Wie award as the tournament MVP. In the three tournament games combined, Seipel scored 53 points after shooting 78 percent (25-of-32) from the field and pulled down 20 rebounds. Joining Seipel on the 2018 NCAC Men’s Basketball All-Tournament Team was senior teammate Chad Roy (Toledo, OH/Holland Springfield), Ohio Wesleyan senior guard Nate Axelrod (Dublin, OH/Coffman), Ohio Wesleyan senior guard Seth Clark (Lewis Center, OH/Olentangy), Wooster senior forward Alex Baptiste (Allonnes, France/Wasatch Academy (UT)) and Denison senior guard Garrett Collier (McLean, VA/Langley)

The NCAC will now be sending multiple teams to the 2018 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament for the seventh time in the last eight years. NCAC Tournament champion Wittenberg earned the league’s automatic bid into the field of 64, while Wooster earned one of the 21 available at-large invitations into the national tournament. The Tigers are making their 28th NCAA Div. III Postseason appearance, with the last coming in 2014, while the Scots landed on the Div. III bracket for the 16th year in a row and the 27th time overall. 

Both teams will open play in the NCAA Tournament on Friday (3/1) night, highlighted by Wittenberg hosting a four-team pod in Springfield. Wooster will travel to John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, for first- and second-round games. Wittenberg will meet Misericorida (17-10), the automatic qualifier out of the MAC Freedom, in the first round on Friday at home, while the Fighting Scots will square off against Illinois Wesleyan (19-7), an at-large selection out of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, on Friday at JCU. Wittenberg and Misericordia will be meeting for the first time in history, while Wooster and IWU will be meeting for the fourth time overall with the Titans holding a 2-1 lead in the series. In their last meeting, IWU topped Wooster by a 69-67 margin in Wooster in the sectional semifinal round of the 2012 NCAA Div. III Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Wittenberg pod will also feature a first-round matchup between Marietta (21-6) and Wis.-Oshkosh (20-7), while the other first round game in University Heights will feature the host Blue Streaks (23-5) against Thomas More (23-5). First-round winners from each pod will meet in the second round on Saturday (3/2) with a berth into the sectional round on the line. 

The sectional rounds will also be played on campus sites the following weekend, March 9-10, while the semifinals and championship game will once again be played at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Virginia, on Friday and Saturday, March 16-17.

Wittenberg holds an overall record of 51-27 in the NCAA Div. III Tournament, highlighted by winning the national title in 1977 with a 79-66 win over SUNY-Oneonta in the championship game. The Tigers last hosted an NCAA Tournament game in 2006, collecting four-straight home wins over Lake Erie, Baldwin Wallace, Hope and Transylvania to earn a spot in the national semifinals. The Tigers than knocked off Amherst, 64-60, in the semifinals, before dropping a 59-56 decision against Virginia Wesleyan in the national title game.

The Fighting Scots have advanced to the third round of the national tournament in nine of the last 18 seasons, including advancing to the championship game in 2011, where they were upended by St. Thomas (MN), 78-54. In last year’s tournament, Wooster suffered a 77-72 loss against North Central (IL) in the opening round. The Fighting Scots have compiled an overall record of 34-27 in NCAA Div. III postseason play.