WESTERVILLE, Ohio – The Wittenberg men's basketball team fell to 4-2 overall following a 85-80 loss to Otterbein University Tuesday night on the Cardinals' Reynolds Court at the Rike Center.
The Tigers may have picked the wrong night to head to Westerville, as Otterbein junior Max Van Meter put together a banner night, striking for career highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds.
The combined force of 22-of-29 free throw shooting by Otterbein was too much for the Tigers, even with career high scoring outputs of 20 points for both junior guard Zack Leahy (Rossford, Ohio/Rossford) and sophomore wing Sam Collins (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Cleveland Heights).
Otterbein started fast, sinking seven of their first 10 field goals over the opening five minutes to build a 15-7 lead, but the Cardinals also accrued six team fouls in the first seven minutes of the game, putting Wittenberg on the line for the remainder of the period.
The Tigers took advantage, using four made free throws as part of a game-tying 10-2 run to knot it up at 17-17 with 12:05 to go, including an old-fashioned three-point play by Leahy and two made free throws by sophomore guard Ben Syroka (Toledo, Ohio/Whitmer) that finished the run.
Leahy struck again with a three-point play to break a 22-22 tie, but the teams then traded a one-point lead several times, a duel that junior post Scott Masin (New Carlisle, Ohio/Bethel) kept Wittenberg in with three consecutive layups.
The lead-trading finally ended with an Otterbein missed shot and two Leahy free throws at the other end when the Cardinals picked up their 10th foul. The makes gave Leahy his 12th and 13th points of the night and put Wittenberg up 35-32.
Syroka and junior guard Steven Newell (Englewood, Ohio/Northmont) made back-to-back three-pointers to extend the lead to 41-34, but an Otterbein free throw, layup and three-pointer brought them right back into the game at 42-40 heading into the halftime break.
The second half was neck-and-neck until the 8:39 mark when Wittenberg led 60-59 after a Leahy layup. Otterbein reeled off seven straight points and 10 of the next 11 to take a commanding 69-61 lead to the 5:00 mark.
The game appeared to be put away for Otterbein, but the last two minutes of the game in reality took multiples of that time to complete as Wittenberg fought back within four points with 14.5 seconds left on the clock. That was the closest the Tigers would get, however, as Otterbein made the free throws down the stretch.
Collins and Leahy finished with career highs of 20 points, Collins doing it on 7-of-10 field goal shooting to go with eight rebounds. Masin and Syroka each finished with 10 points, just behind Newell with 11. Masin added seven rebounds, as did freshman forward Alex Fultz (Cincinnati, Ohio/Glen Este).
The Tigers return to Springfield to resume North Coast Athletic Conference competition when they host Allegheny on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. at Pam Evans Smith Arena.