Vinny Buccilla lines up a three for Wabash during their 75-67 win over rival DePauw as the Little Giants punched their ticket to the NCAC Championship game. JOHN KEREZY FOR THE JOURNAL REVIEW
WOOSTER -- Wabash won the first-ever contest against rival DePauw University on a neutral floor Friday night, besting the Tigers 75-67 in the semifinal game of the NCAC men’s conference championship tournament. The triumph gives the Little Giants their second straight 20-win season, something this team hasn’t accomplished in more than 20 years.
“We always build teams and prepare teams to win 20 games. This is a huge goal at our level, said Wabash Head Coach Kyle Brumett. “It’s only the ninth time since 1979 that Wabash has had a 20-win season. That’s pretty rare air.”
The Little Giants put six players in double figures in the triumph, including junior forwards Ahmoni Jones and Sam Comer recording double-doubles. Ahmoni led the Little Giants with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Comer added 10 of each. Vinny Buccilla and Edreece Redmond each notched 11 points, but it was freshmen Gavin Schippert (11 points, four rebounds) and Josh Whack (14 points) who really helped the cause.
“Six guys in double figures. I’m not sure if any of my teams have ever had that many in doubles,” Brumett said in reviewing stats after the game.
With the win, Wabash also advances to the NCAC conference finals on Saturday afternoon . It will face regular season champion Wooster, which defeated Denison 79-54 in the other semifinal contest on Friday night. Game time is 4 p.m., with the victor gaining an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III national tournament.
DePauw, seeded sixth, bows out of the tournament with an 18-9 mark. It was a great turnaround for the Tigers under their first-year head coach Rusty Loyd, as the team was under .500 last season. Sam Jacobs led DePauw with 20 points, Grant Niego added 14, Ryan Jacobson 12, and Elijah Hales finished his career with 11 points.
Some of the keys to Wabash’s win were three-point baskets, assists, and points off turnovers. The Little Giants connected on 11 of 32 three-point attempts (34%), while DePauw made just four of 18 tries (22.2%). Wabash also was unselfish with the basketball, totaling 16 assists, and the victors scored 16 points off of DePauw’s 12 turnovers.
Wabash trailed 12-11 at the 11:15 mark in the first half when the offense went into hyperdrive with a 17-4 run over the next six minutes. Styles McCorkle (3 points), Ahmoni Jones (5 points) Vinny Buccilla (3 points) Edreece Redmond (3 points) and Gavin Schippert (3 points) all contributed to the streak.
Ahead 28-20 with 3 minutes remaining in the half, Wabash closed out offensively with two more Jones 3-pointers and one from Redmond as well. The Little Giants took a 37-26 lead into the locker room at the break.
Next , Wabash came out red hot in the second half and pushed the lead to as much as 19 points when Comer hit a 3-pointer for a 50-31 advantage at the 16:24 mark. Then he Tigers began battling back, responding with a 21-4 tear of their own, closing the gap to 54-52 with 8:10 remaining.
Whack responded in a huge way for the Little Giants, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the second half. Every time the Little Giants needed a pick-up, Whack was there, hitting key baskets and drawing fouls from the Tigers.
“Josh has played in such big games. He’s just not afraid of the moment… he’s finding his way to his success and he’s gotten better and better,” Brumett said about Whack. “Gavin (Schippert) also got us off to a good start. He’s really playing with a lot of confidence, and that gives the defense fits.”
“They both have really gone about their business in all the right ways,” Brumett added. “They are so coachable. They have had good games before, but not on a stage like this.
Wabash made 8 steals compared to just 3 for the Tigers, and also outhustled DePauw 38-34 on the boards, 28 of those defensive rebounds. “I was really happy with our rebounding…overall we rebounded really well, and Sam and Ahmoni ended opponent possessions (with boards),” Brumett added.