Men’s Basketball Wins Tight Game over Rival Wittenberg

Eliot Barrengos, Contributing Writer
Men’s Basketball has notched thier fifth consecutive over rival Wit- tenberg. They look to use the momentum from this win to cement thier first-place ranking in the NCAC torunament.
Courtesy of Wooster Athletics

On the night of Feb. 4, Timken Gymnasium was rocking, and the Fighting Scots showed up. Wooster, who came into Saturday’s game leading the NCAC conference standings with a 10-2 record, entered play leading by just one game in the win column over Wabash College. The Scots bested Wittenberg University in front of an energized crowd of Wooster students, family and alumni. What looked to be a tight game initially, as the two teams traded leads through the first half, quickly became a Wooster triumph in the second half. 

Throughout the first 20 minutes of play, Wooster and Wittenberg traded blows, exchanging the lead seven times, with neither team leading by five or more points for more than 37 seconds. The Scots looked like they might escape the first half with a slim five-point lead when Wittenberg forward Levi Boettcher hit a timely three-pointer with just two seconds remaining on the clock. 

Wooster came out in the second half with something to prove, eager to down their rivals, who were sitting near the bottom of the conference standings this year. Wooster was working to maintain two separate streaks: home dominance and five straight victories over Wittenberg.

For context on how good Wooster has been at home, the last time the men’s basketball team failed to win a matchup on their own floor was Dec. 10. Wooster is 7-0 in conference games when playing on their home court and 11-2 in overall play. There is no doubt that the Scots have proved dominant when they play in front of their home fans. 

When asked what it meant to play in front of the home crowd, junior guard Elijah Meredith  responded saying, “There is no better feeling than playing at home. Playing in front of our friends and family and everyone else who supports the team is what makes playing at home so much fun. The student body has been great this season in terms of coming out to support the team and we really hope to see everyone out during our last few home games.” 

Saturday night’s win was a “blackout” in the Wooster student section and Meredith gestured multiple times throughout the game as the crowd brought the noise and energy that has fueled the Scots at home this season. “It means a lot to have a great student section. Everyone gets really pumped up for the games and having the themes allows everyone to participate in the same way. It’s one of the many reasons why playing for Wooster is such a great experience,” said Meredith. 

The Scots’ offense ground out a slim lead and was fueled by the work of senior Najee Hardaway and sophomore Jamir Billings. Billings led the way on offense with a co-season-high 20 points on Saturday, and Hardaway owned the glass with 13 rebounds. But make no mistake, the defense is the engine of this team, and as Meredith put it, “We are a team built on defense, … once we are able to consistently play to our strengths on offense, and keep playing the tough defense we play, we will be hard to beat.” Head Coach Doug Cline added that, “We just played better defense and executed better on offense than we did at Oberlin.” 

A loss for Wooster would have been a major blow to their hopes of clinching first place in the conference, with just three remaining games in the regular season schedule. In the weeks ahead they will face Hiram and Denison, before what should be a major showdown in Timken Gymnasium against Wabash on Saturday, Feb. 18. If both teams continue at their current pace, first place and a spot in the NCAC D-III Tournament will be up for grabs. Wooster will be glad to host what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the regular season. As Coach Cline put it, “It makes a big impact on the game… Our players feed off their enthusiasm. Playing in Timken Gym is definitely a home-court advantage for us.”

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