When DePauw University and Wabash College’s men’s basketball teams clash on Friday night at Timken Gymnasium, it’ll mark the first time after 224 previous games that the two rivals have played on a neutral floor. The two schools, less than 30 miles apart in West Central Indiana, both travel about 318 miles to Wooster for the first of two North Coast Athletic Conference semifinal contests. Denison opposes Wooster in the other semifinal (more below).
“The first two games were won by the home team, so it’ll be fun to play them (Wabash) on a neutral court,” says Rusty Loyd, DePauw MBB head coach. “They are coming off a Final Four Run so their players have played in some big games. They are going to be well prepared to face us.”
“Friday night’s game with DePauw will come with a lot of emotion,” adds Wabash coach Kyle Brumett. “We need to channel that emotion into positive execution, really following our game plan and playing smart basketball.”
PLAYERS AND STATS
DePauw’s Tigers (18-8) may have finished sixth in the North Coast Athletic Conference, but the team comes into the tournament semifinals with a head of steam, victors in their last four contests including a 78-69 triumph at Ohio Wesleyan on Tuesday to advance in the tournament. Senior Elijah Hales, an Academic All American in 2021-22, leads the team in scoring with 18.8 points per game (ppg). Sophomore Camden Brown is second in scoring at 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rebounds per game (rpg). Junior Grant Niego is next at 8.8 ppg and 4.5 rbg, and junior Grant Gohmann brings down 4.3 rbg.
Two important elements in the Tigers’ success comes on the boards and at the free throw line. DePauw is shooting 77% from the charity stripe, and they average 14.2 points a game – 20% of their 74.6 points per contest -- in free throws. DePauw can be expected to employ 10 players in the contest, but Hales will be on the floor the most, averaging 34 minutes a game.
“We have held three of our last four opponents below 70 points, which is goal going into every game we play,” Loyd adds. “Defensive rebounding has been a huge inflection point for our season. In games where we control the defensive boards, we win.”
Fans of Wabash were expecting some rebuilding this season after a 28-4 mark and tournament triumphs all the way to the NCAA Division III National Semifinals in 2021-22. Instead the Little Giant reloaded, posting a 19-7 record thus far, and came within one point of repeating as NCAC regular season champs, falling to Wooster 75-74 on Feb. 18. Second-place Wabash got to the NCAC championship tournament by eliminating Hiram 91-71 on Tuesday.
Junior Ahmoni Jones leads the Little Giants in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg), followed by sophomore Vinny Buccilla (14.5 ppg), junior Sam Comer (10.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and junior Edreece Redmond (10.5 ppg). Wabash also plays 10 deep in most games, with Buccilla and Comer in the contest on average for 32 of each game’s 40 minutes.
It’s no secret that the three-point play is an important part of Wabash’s offensive arsenal, as the Little Giants make an average of eight shots per game behind the 3-point line. DePauw hits an average of 7.3 shots in 3-point country, but it allows 8.5 a game as well. Wabash surrenders less than 6 treys per game (5.9) in playing an assertive man-to-man defense.
KEYS TO VICTORY FROM THE COACHES
"It will take a lot of guys to contribute to win,” Brumett says about his Wabash team. “Ahmoni Jones will have to play well, especially rebounding the basketball. Vinny will need to be in attack mode. Comer, Redmond, and (Avery) Beaver are relied upon to lead the team offensively and defensively.
“They will all need to make some shots, but they also help coach the team on the floor,” Brumett adds. “And then we will need great effort from the rest our hard-playing guys like Gavin Schippert, Styles and Champ (McCorkle), (Josh) Whack and Randy (Kelley).
“If we are going to keep playing, guys will have to be ready for their moment, because it will come.”
On the other side, DePauw knows it needs Elijah Hales at the helm to be successful.
“Eli’s ability to score and bend defenses is a huge part of who we are and what we do,” Loyd explains. “We get great contributions in the starting line-up from Grant Gohmann and Grant Niego – great passers and distributors – and Cam Brown has been a great force for us around the basket but has also shown an ability to step out and shoot 3s.”
“Sam Jacobs, a freshman, is our fifth starter, and in the starting line-up he’s averaging double figures while shooting 55% from the field and 40% from 3s,” Loyd adds. “Senior Nolan Niego has been off the bench and provides a veteran presence. Finally, Ryan Jacobson, Billy Bach, Kyle Lillwitz and Ronald Johnson have been great contributors in varying roles.”
Division III sports fans know about the rivalry between DePauw and Wabash and the Monon Bell Football Classic, which goes back to 1890. Brumett and Loyd have mutual high regard for the rivalry and their opposition, but they’re also friends.
“Wabash is balanced, and that makes them hard to guard and allows them to play varying styles. Our program has a great deal of respect for them,” Loyd says. “We expect their best.”
“We have to limit our fouls on Elijah Hayes and keep DePauw as a team off the free throw line,” Brumett says. “We have to defend and rebound well without fouling.”
Brumett also puts the semifinal contest into some perspective.
“Coach Loyd and I got into coaching at the same time, and we have competed against each other for a long time. Our children are similar ages. We have a lot in common and we know each other’s grind and path,” he explains. “Those things are special, but the GAME is about the players. This is an opportunity for my guys to make this team and this season special.”