Things would be different when the DePauw Tigers men’s basketball team took on the Denison University Big Red on Wednesday night at Neal Fieldhouse.
The last time the two faced off was Dec. 3 and on that night the Tigers saw their halftime lead evaporate on the road in a game Denison eventually won 67-65.
In that game, the Tigers leading scorer was senior forward Tommy Fernitz, however, he wasn’t available on Wednesday. Back on Dec. 3, sophomores Luke Lattner and Clint Cunningham combined for only 7 points, in this matchup the two sophomores combined for 45 of the Tigers 69 points and helped carry the Tigers.
DePauw’s big North Coast Athletic Conference win moved the Tigers to 12-6 overall and 5-6 in conference play.
Tommy Fernitz, DePauw’s leading scorer on the season, was not available to play in Wednesday night’s game after testing positive for mononucleosis. Not only does Fernitz lead his team in points, but he also leads the Tigers in rebounds and blocks and his status moving forward is still in question.
“I’ll be back on campus Monday to get retested, so it just depends on that,” Fernitz said looking forward to the team’s conference matchup with Oberlin on Saturday.
In a tough, North Coast Athletic Conference matchup DePauw needed members up and down their lineup to fill the void left by the absence of their star forward. And that’s exactly what they did.
“No one player was going to make up for everything he does,” Lattner said. “It was important that as a team, we all do a little bit more. We need a couple extra points here, extra rebounds here. It took an entire team effort.”
The unsung hero of the game may have been sophomore Clint Cunningham, who before Wednesday night’s game had totaled 13 points season. At half, Cunningham had reached his season’s total. It was a key contribution by the sophomore forward who took it upon himself to step up in the absence of Tommy Fernitz.
“I knew with Tommy being out I would see more playing time,” Cunningham said after the game. “I just wanted to come out aggressive and trust myself.”
Cunningham showed versatility in his game, backing down Denison defenders down low, while also hitting a three point jump shot. Cunningham’s performance backed up what Lattner spoke about.
Lattner did his part too, dominating throughout and totaling 28 points including the go ahead layup with 45 seconds left that put the Tigers ahead 68-67. Denison turned the ball back over to the Tigers following Lattner’s layup, which led to the Big Red fouling and sending senior Connor Rich to the line with 25 seconds remaining. Rich hit one of two free throws, giving the Tigers the two point lead.
On Denison’s next possession, Bret Woolard drove to the basket and was fouled with 5 seconds left in regulation. Woolard made the first, but missed the second. Dension retained possession, however, after the rebound hit off the Tigers with 2.7 seconds left. In their final possession, Denison attempted a desperation three that missed as time expired.
It was a crucial stop at the end of the game, the kind of key defensive stop that the Tigers have not been able to get for much of the season.
“I think 5 or 6 of our losses have been decided by 5 points or less, and a lot of those losses are because we haven’t been able to get that one big stop on defense,” Lattner said. “It was huge for us to be able to get those last two stops. That was the biggest difference in how we played.”
Next up for the Tigers is conference rival Oberlin at Neal Fieldhouse with tipoff scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday.