The Tigers came ready to play … the Battling Bishops did not.
In a four-team battle for first place in the North Coast Athletic Conference, Wittenberg (16-4, 10-3 NCAC) moved into a second-place tie with Ohio Wesleyan (16-4, 10-3 NCAC) with an 11-point, 66-55 victory over the Bishops in front of a gathering of 880 fans Wednesday night at Branch Rickey Arena.
Wooster (17-3, 11-2 NCAC) took over the top spot with an 86-56 victory over Kenyon last night at Wooster. DePauw (14-5, 9-3 NCAC) was idle.
Wittenberg, which trailed 5-4 after the first 1:44 of the game, took a 7-5 lead on 6-foot-6 senior forward Cole Bend’s three-pointer at the 17:42 mark and never looked back — snapping a 7-game OWU win streak which had propelled the Bishops into the 13th spot in the NCAA Division III national rankings.
Bill Brown’s Tigers, ranked 22nd in the recent DIII poll, would go up by as many as 14 points, taking a 32-18 lead on freshman guard Shane Edwards’ layin with 3:49 left in the opening 20 minutes. The Bishops would close the gap to 8 at 34-26 on senior post Reuel Rogers’ layup with one second remaining before the intermission.
By the half, Wittenberg was shooting 48.4 percent (15 for 31) from the field compared to OWU’s 33.3 percentage (9 for 27). The Bishops also turned the ball over 9 times in the half, losing 12 points to the Tigers.
“It was obvious … Wittenberg was coming off a loss to Denison and came into tonight’s game ready to play,” OWU head coach Mike DeWitt said outside his team’s locker room after the game.
That trend continued into the second half.
After Ohio Wesleyan opened the half with an 11-6 run to pull within three of the lead at 40-37 on senior guard Taylor Rieger’s basket at the 14:45 mark, the Bishop offense failed to take advantage, counting only three baskets, a trey by senior wing Dre White, a layin by freshman guard Seth Clark and a basket by Rieger on their next 16 possessions to fall behind 51-44 with 5:24 remaining.
OWU would close the margin to 57-51 on Clark’s 3-pointer at the 1:52 mark, but the Tigers sealed the victory at the foul line, converting 7 of 10 free throws to go with a layup by senior guard Zach Leahy over the final 58.3 seconds.
The Bishops shot only 37.5 percent (12 for 32), including 17.6 percent (3 for 17) from beyond the arc, in the second half to finish the night with a 35.6 field goal percentage on 21 for 59 shooting. By comparison, Wittenberg shot 46.3 percent (25 for 54), which included a 43.8 percentage (7 for 16) in 3-point attempts. The Tigers edged the Bishops on the glass 40-36. OWU turned the ball over 12 times, Wittenberg 13 times.
“They did a good job defensively of taking away our inside game,” DeWitt said. “We were not sharp offensively. We got some good looks at the basket, but could not take advantage … we were hurrying our outside shots. The bottom line: We did not play well at home in a game with a lot at stake as far as the conference goes … we will need to bounce back at Kenyon on Saturday.”
Leahy, who counted 5 threes, led Wittenberg with a game-high 27 points. Junior guard Sam Collins finished with 13 and 6-5 senior post Scott Masin 10 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds and 3 assists. Rogers led OWU with 16 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Clark followed with 12 and Rieger with 11 points. Sophomore post Claude Gray handed out 3 assists for the Bishops.
With the victory, Wittenberg, which edged OWU 62-50 in overtime back on Jan. 8, swept the regular-season series with the Bishops. The Tigers lead the all-time series 116-50.
Ohio Wesleyan takes on Kenyon at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gambier.