Jack Davidson led Wabash with 29 points, despite the opening season loss.
Wabash, ranked 14th in the nation in the preseason poll, had their season-opener slip away Thursday, as Centre College out of Danville, KY scored the last 10 points of the game to defeat the Little Giants 77-76.
Two missed free throws in the last 17 seconds of the game by the team that led the nation in free throw shooting last year was the final straw, as an alley-oop pass with 1.6 left on the clock changed the lead for the last time in favor of the Colonels, who were 23-5 last year and two-time champs of their conference. They move to 2-1 on the season.
“This was a good matchup for both teams,” Little Giants coach Kyle Brumett said. “Coach (Greg) Mason has done a great job. They, like us, have a bunch of returning guys so we knew this was going to be a tough game. We ended up playing poorly — we shouldn’t have had a late lead like that and end up on the short end.”
A 14-0 run by Wabash early in the second half erased what had been a Colonels small lead through much of the first half.
Jack Davidson and Tyler Watson combined for all 14, and the Little Giants were up by 10, and played with that double-digit lead until the game-finishing run by Centre.
Davidson, last year’s NCAC Player of the Year, All-American, Great Lakes Player of the Year and Preseason All-American, led the home team with 29 points, but it was the junior, who was second in the nation last year at 93.1 percent from the line, that missed the front end of a one-and-bonus that was part of the late drought. Kellen Schreiber missed another front end, this at :11.1 to go, which was followed by the last Colonels bucket.
“We have the talent, we just have to play better,” Brumett said. “We led the nation in free throw shooting (81.7 percent) and we missed the front end of two one-and-ones. We averaged 10 turnovers a game last year and we had 18, with 12 in the second half. We had a real advantage inside and did not use that advantage in the guts of the game. We just have to relax and play better.”
The Little Giants finished 21-6 overall last year, and second in the league with a 14-4 mark.
Schreiber finished with 14 points behind Davidson’s 29, and Watson had 13. The Little Giants shot 50 percent from the field, 13-of-26 from 3-point range and 9-of-13 from the line. The won the rebound battle 35-23. Harrison Halstrom led the team with six.
“We had too many guys that thought they needed to make a play that they didn’t need to make,” Brumett said. “We were all trying to hit home runs when we should have been hitting singles and doubles. We had too many charges when other guys were open.”
Centre was led by Perry Ayers with 19 points, followed by Jacob Bates with 15 and Dawson Crump with 14. Crump hit a huge three-pointer with :47 left as the shot clock was running out to make it a one-possession game.
“My push with this team is to play better in February,” Brumett said. “Tonight was just like a situation we can find ourselves in during late-season NCAC games. Tonight will make us a better team. We took a test tonight and didn’t like the results, so we are going to go back, watch every minute of this game Saturday before going to the Bell game, and work on our mistakes. At the Bell Chapel today, the football guys pointed out that they lost their first game, and lost a tough game in the middle of the season, but won the games they had to win, and have won the conference and now can go win the best rivalry game in college football. We will learn and get better.”
The Little Giants are back in action on Tuesday with a 7 p.m. game on Mac Petty Court against Earlham.