CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. — The Wittenberg Tigers had hoped to clinch at least a share of their 11th North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) regular season championship, but the Wabash Little Giants put together a strong second half to run away with a 70-59 victory.
The loss, just Wittenberg's second since a Dec. 22 defeat at Otterbein, dropped the Tigers into a first-place tie with Wooster at 12-2. Both teams return to action on Saturday — Wittenberg hits the road again for a tough match-up at Hiram, while the Scots entertain third-place Ohio Wesleyan. Overall, the 17th-ranked Tigers now stand at 17-6, while 18th-ranked Wabash is now 19-5 overall and 10-5 in the NCAC.
The two teams traded the lead for much of the opening 20 minutes, with Wabash eventually pulling out to a 32-28 lead. The game was still tight through the first 10 minutes of the second half as well, before the Little Giants took over on the boards and got hot from long distance to secure the win. A three-pointer by Wabash's Ben Burkett gave the Little Giants a 37-35 lead at the 13:38 mark of the second half, and Wabash went on to hit four more triples over the next 10 minutes. As the Tigers struggled offensively, Wabash kept up the pressure, in part thanks to a whopping 23-10 rebounding advantage in the final 20 minutes alone.
The lead reached 18 points with 2:44 remaining before the Tiger reserves made a run to cut the lead all the way down to six on a three-pointer by junior Josh McKee (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) with 33 seconds remaining. However, Wittenberg did not score again, while the Little Giants hit 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
For the game, Wabash held a commanding 38-26 rebounding advantage. The Little Giants shot 47 percent from the field, including a sterling 9-of-20 performance from three-point range, compared to 42 percent from the field for Wittenberg, including a 9-of-28 clip from long range.
Freshman Steven Newell (Englewood, Ohio/Northmont) led the Tigers with 12 points, while McKee added 11 points off the bench and junior Michael Cooper (Springfield, Ohio/South) finished with 10 points. No Wittenberg player managed more than five rebounds or three assists in the game.
Wabash also featured good balance on offense, led by Derek Bailey with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field in just 22 minutes off the bench.