#6 Men's Hoops Returns to NCAC Tournament Title Game

Photo Courtesy of NCAC League Office
Photo Courtesy of NCAC League Office

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio—Wittenberg men's basketball overcame a slow start on Friday night to produce one of the better shooting night's in recent Tiger history. Wittenberg battled Denison in the 2018 NCAC semifinal at Pam Evans Smith Arena, as both teams put on a shooting display for the ages. The Big Red came out swinging, shooting 53% from beyond the three-point line in the first half, including eight long balls. Wittenberg recuperated at the break, coming out of the locker room shooting nearly 74% from the floor on their way to a 97-73 win. Wittenberg now plays Ohio Wesleyan University on Saturday at 4:00 P.M. in the 2018 NCAC Tournament Championship. OWU came out on top against Wooster in overtime on Friday night; 88-87.

HOW IT HAPPENED: Despite allowing Denison to jump out to a 6-0 lead through the first five minutes of action, NCAC basketball fans were in for a treat on Friday night, as both the Tigers and the Big Red put on a shooting clinic in the first half. Freshman James Johnson paced the Tiger's in the first half, going a perfect seven-for-seven from the field, including four-for-four from behind the three-point line for 19 first-half points. With a 43-42 lead at halftime, Wittenberg came out on a 14-0 run in the second half, jumping out to a 57-42 lead with 16:03 remaining in regulation. The Tiger's doubled up the Big Red a 78-57 after a Mitchell Balser corner three found the bottom of the net off a Jacob Bertemes pass. Denison pulled within 16 in the second half, but the Tiger's hot shooting continued to keep the distance comfortable, as the lead ballooned back to 20 after another Balser three with 2:30 remaining in regulation. After back-to-back made layups from Jordan Pumroy and Johnson, the Tigers secured the win at 97-73 at the final horn.

WHO STOOD OUT: Balser and Johnson both went for 23 points in the win, and the duo combined for nine three-pointers on 11 total attempts on Friday. Balser also managed to keep his teammates involved in the semifinal win, dishing out a season high eight assists. Pumroy was the game's leading rebounder with nine, as Connor Seipel chipped in eight rebounds along with his 16-point effort on seven of ten shooting. Johnson's 23 points off the bench is a new high for the freshman, as the Cincinnati, Ohio product finished a perfect nine-for-nine from the floor, and four-for-four from behind the three-point line.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Wittenberg finished the day shooting nearly 68% from the floor against the Big Red. Wittenberg's all-time game-high field-goal percentage is 72%, which ironically enough came against the Denison Big Red. The Tiger's cashed in on ten of their 16 three-point attempts for a 62.5% clip, as 20 of the Tiger's 40 field-goals came off assists. Denison continued to struggle taking care of the basketball against the Tiger's, as the semifinal loss produced 14 Big Red turnovers; the team's third 20-point loss to the Tiger's in 2017-18.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Wittenberg earns a spot in the NCAC Tournament Championship game for the first time since 2013-14. Both the men's and the women's basketball programs play for the NCAC Tournament Championship on Saturday, the first time this has happened since 2010. In total, this is the 11th time that the men's and women's team have both made it to the Tournament Championship game, with both programs winning in 1991 and 1996. As for the men's opponent, Ohio Wesleyan, the last time the Battling Bishops and Tigers met in the NCAC Tournament Championship was 1990. The Tigers came out on top in that matchup 86-62.

UP NEXT:  Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan do battle tomorrow at 4:00 P.M. at Pam Evans Smith Arena for the 2018 NCAC Tournament Championship.