SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — It has become something of a holiday tradition - like Santa's arrival each year, the Wittenberg Tiger men's basketball team pretty much always finds a way to win its annual tournament. For the second straight year and the 24th time in 28 years of Kiwanis-sponsored competitions, the Tigers captured the championship, topping Taylor in a thrilling 62-60 finale.
Wittenberg, which advanced to the title game with a first round win over Kean a day earlier, improved to 6-4 overall, heading into a busy three-game week immediately after the New Year's holiday. Taylor, which defeated Heidelberg to reach the championship game, dropped to 11-5.
The Tigers opened an 11-point lead midway through the first half, but Taylor battled back to take a one-point lead on a three-pointer by Drew Tower with 2:14 left before the intermission. Wittenberg scored the last five points of the half, however, including a three-pointer off a steal by senior Chris Sullivan (Columbus, Ohio/Upper Arlington) with 37 seconds left.
Taylor's Casey Coons scored his team's first eight points to draw even against at the 17:53 mark of the second half. The Trojans built a five-point lead midway through the period before Sullivan knocked down a pair of long-range jumpers, first tying the game at 46 on a three-pointer at the 9:36 mark and then putting the Tigers back in front on a triple at the 7:53 mark. From there, Wittenberg's lead ranged from seven points to a single tally before a flurry of action in the closing 16 seconds.
Wittenberg had a five-point lead when Taylor's Nate Kaspar tipped in a missed shot with 16 seconds left. Wittenberg junior Clayton Black (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) responded with a pair of free throws before Coons came out of a timeout to drain a long three-pointer with 11 ticks left on the clock. Black was fouled again and this time he missed the front end of the one-and-one. That set up a frenzied sequence in which Taylor's Kyle Hanaway missed a running jumper and Kaspar's tip-in at the buzzer hung on the front of the rim briefly before trickling off.
Taylor shot 44 percent from the field, compared to 49 percent for Wittenberg. Both teams shot an even 50 percent from three-point range, but Wittenberg attempted 10 more free throws, resulting in a decisive six-point disparity. The Tigers won the rebounding battle 31-24, but they were forced into four more turnovers in the game.
Individually, Black was named Tournament MVP after pouring in 19 points, six rebounds and four assists in 31 outstanding minutes. Sullivan also made the all-tournament team after contributing 14 points, four rebounds and two assists, while freshman Steven Newell (Dayton, Ohio/Northmont) was solid as well, knocking down three first-half three-pointers to finish with nine points. More importantly, he did not commit a turnover in 27 minutes running the point.
Taylor was paced by all-tournament selections Coons and Tommy Peller, each with 19 points. Both made 5-of-8 from three-point range. Kaspar added 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.