Wittenberg Overcomes Weather Delays, Birmingham-Southern To Advance In NCAA Tournament
Wittenberg Men's Basketball Head Coach Bill Brown improved to 8-0 in first round NCAA Division III Tournament games as the Tigers overcame a lengthy delay due to inclement weather in the area to defeat Birmingham-Southern, 63-56.
Playing at Transylvania University, the Tigers led for most of the game but still needed to hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure the victory. Wittenberg advanced to the second round of the national competition for a second straight season and will face Carroll (Wisc.), which upset 18th ranked host Transylvania 84-72, in a game scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off on Saturday.
Brown's Tiger teams have advanced to the second round in each of his 12 NCAA Division III Tournament appearances, including four byes. The win over Birmingham-Southern, which was making its first national tournament appearance since transitioning to NCAA Division III, followed a familiar pattern as Wittenberg combined a bruising post game with a stout defensive effort.
But while the pattern on-court was familiar to Tiger fans, the pre-game routine on this day was anything but. A line of severe thunderstorms rumbled through central Kentucky, and radar indicated that tornadoes had touched down in the area. The game was originally delayed for two hours to allow the storms to pass, but then Birmingham-Southern was late arriving at the arena, forcing another delay.
The game featured a clash of styles as the Panthers offered an up-tempo, perimeter-oriented offensive style in combination with full-court pressure for most of the game. But it was 22nd-ranked Wittenberg that imposed its will, shooting 54 percent from the field (on 12 less attempts) and outrebounding 13th-ranked Birmingham-Southern 32-25.
The Panthers did manage to force 15 turnovers, but it was Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Player of the Year Blaise White who was charged with the most untimely miscue. Clinging to a precarious three-point lead, Wittenberg forced a White turnover with just 23 seconds left. Senior Clayton Black (Lancaster, Ohio/Lancaster) responded with two free throws, and then senior Michael Cooper (Springfield, Ohio/South) put the game out of reach, rebounding the ensuing three-pointer and draining a pair of foul shots.
Senior Josh McKee (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) led both teams with 18 points. Senior Alex Brandt (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy) bounced back from a sub-par North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament to contribute 14 points, while Black finished with 13 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
The Panthers, who saw their season end with a 25-3 overall record after winning the SCAC regular season title, were limited to 35 percent shooting from the field. Not only did Wittenberg, which improved to 22-6 overall, shoot 54 percent from the field, including a 7-of-16 performance from three-point range, the Tigers knocked down 14-of-18 free throws.