Setting the Scene:
It was another outstanding season for the Wittenberg University Tiger men's basketball team. Wittenberg finished 20-6 overall and 14-2 in the North Coast Athletic Conference, good for second place. The Tigers advanced to the conference tournament semifinals before losing 73-72 to No. 3 seed Allegheny, which made a conference tournament record 13 three-point field goals.
While the season ended short of the team's goals of winning a third consecutive NCAC regular season title and a second straight NCAC tournament crown, it is hard to call the 2002-03 campaign a disappointment, even against the phenomenal measuring stick that is the winningest men's basketball program in small college history. The Tigers survived early-season injuries to key players Kevin Longley (Vandalia, Ohio/Butler) and Andy Bucheit (Cincinnati, Ohio/LaSalle) to put together another 20-win season and make another strong run at the NCAC regular season and tournament championships.
The Tigers were led in 2002-03 by a tandem of outstanding four-year letterwinners, seniors B.J. Harris (Riverside, Ohio/Stebbins) and Kevin Longley. Those two players led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding each of the last two years and finished their careers with an outstanding four-year team record of 88-26. In addition, Wittenberg won two NCAC regular season titles, one NCAC tournament crown and made two NCAA Division III Tournament appearances during their time in the Red & White.
Harris started all 26 games in 2002-03 and topped the Tigers with 12.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. His 53 assists and 20 blocks were second-best on the team. He was an All-NCAC selection each of the last two years, and he was chosen as the Team MVP in each of the last two seasons.
Longley ranked second in scoring and rebounding each of the last two seasons behind Harris. He finished with averages of 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per outing, even after hobbling through the first few weeks of the season with a foot injury. His shooting percentage neared 56 percent and he finished third on the team with 24 steals. Both Harris and Longley capped their stellar careers by joining the exclusive 1,000-point club. Harris ranks 19th all-time in school history for career points with 1,140. Longley ranks 24th with 1,035. Both made their marks in the rebounding category as well. Harris finished with 734 career boards, good for eighth on the all-time list. Longley finished with 719, good for 11th.
What the Future Holds:
That's a good question. Harris and Longley were the unquestioned team leaders in 2002-03, and they performed admirably against double-team after double-team and defensive alignments specifically geared to stop them. But the cupboard is anything but bare, and the remaining talent on the roster figures to continue to the winning tradition.
The team's seniors in 2003-04 will be forward Peter Walker (Louisville, Ky./St. Xavier) and guard Rod Emmons (South Bend, Ind./John Adams), both of whom started every game this season. Walker was third on the team in scoring and rebounding with 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He shot better than 50 percent from the floor and a team-best 80 percent from the free throw line. Emmons started 24 of the team's 26 games and averaged a team-high 25.8 minutes per outing, 9.0 points and 3.3 rebounds. He posted a career-high 38 points in an overtime victory at Wabash on Feb. 19, the highest point total for a Wittenberg player in more than 10 years.
The team's junior class includes point guard Danny Brywczynski (Dayton, Ohio/Northmont), guard Brett Bowen (Arcadia, Ind./Hamilton Heights), guard Kenny Molz (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) and forward Andy Bucheit. Brywczynski, one of just two players to start every game during the 2002-03 season, averaged 4.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game while topping the squad with 58 assists. He averaged 38 percent shooting from three-point range and 77 percent from the free throw line. Bowen worked his way into the regular rotation by midseason and started two games, averaging 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds. Molz was a valuable back-up at the point position, contributing 45 assists and a scoring average of 5.0 points per game. Bucheit ranked among the NCAC leaders in three-point shooting percentage at 46.8 while averaging 9.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per outing.
The team's sophomore class is led by center Daniel Russ (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) and forward Kenny Brady (Reading, Ohio/Reading). Russ was one of the best first-year players in the conference as he appeared in all 26 games off the bench and averaged 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He led the team in blocks with 21. Brady started five games while Longley was recovering from his injury and he wound up appearing in 19 games total. He finished with 76 points and 35 rebounds.
Head Coach Bill Brown (Wittenberg '73) completed his 10th season at the helm of his alma mater's basketball program. Brown's teams at Wittenberg have compiled an overall record of 226-57 for an .800 winning percentage. This season's 20-6 overall mark continues one of the most amazing winning season streaks in all of college sports. Wittenberg has not had a losing season since 1953-54 and has averaged more than 21 wins per season during that time and more than 22 per year since Brown took the reins in 1993-94.
The Tigers have won five outright NCAC regular season championships and advanced to six NCAA Division III national tournaments in Brown's 10 years. His teams have an 11-6 record in NCAA competition with a Final Four appearance in 1994 and an Elite Eight appearance in 1996.