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Wabash defeats Ohio Wesleyan; Little Giants claim a share of conference title

Wabash College Photo

The Wabash basketball team gave head coach Kyle Brumett and associate head coach Patrick Sullivan a very nice birthday present Tuesday with an 88-74 win over Ohio Wesleyan.

The rewards for the team are much bigger and better, though, as the Little Giants secured at least a tie for first place in the NCAC with the win.

In short, Wabash trailed a couple times early and trailed last at 19-17, before a 7-0 streak gave the home team the lead for good. It was never closer than six from there.

They shot the ball well, shot free throws better, and played defense best as they won their 14th straight game, which is the best streak since the 1982 national championship team won 19 to finish that magical season.

The Little Giants move to 18-3 overall and 13-1 in the league. They have won 12 in a row in the conference, which is also a new Wabash record for NCAC play.

They handled third-place OWU, dropping the Battling Bishops to 13-9 overall and 10-5 in the league.

They are now three games in front of Wooster, with three games to play. They can secure the outright title Saturday when they travel to Wooster, or with a win in either of the last two regular-season games. The win Tuesday gives them all the tiebreakers for hosting the semifinals and finals of the conference tournament later this month.

And, as it is with good teams, there were plenty of guys who made the win look easy.

Jack Davidson, playing his 99th game for the Little Giants, had a season-high 35 points, and the guard grabbed a team-best nine rebounds.

The senior, who became the all-time scoring leader at Wabash last weekend, notched his fifth 30-point game of the season, and upped his league-leading scoring average to 24.3 points a game, which is also top-10 in Division III.

He also was 12-of-12 from the line, which will do nothing but help his national rankings in both free throws made (currently 2nd) and free throw percentage (currently 3rd).

Kellen Schreiber leads the league and is second in the nation in field goal percentage. He was 4-of-7.

Tyler Watson, who set a new school single-game record with 14 assists last weekend, is second in the conference with five helpers a game. The Tri-West grad dished out six to go with 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Little Giants are second in the nation in field goal percentage at 52.1 percent. They were a couple shots off that pace Tuesday, going 29-of-62 (46.8%). They are second in the nation in free throw percentage at 81.8 percent and were just off that pace against the Bishops, going 18-of-24 (75%). They are also in the top five in scoring and three-point shooting.

“The difference tonight was that we forced OWU to go 0-for-10 from threes in the first half,” Brumett said. “We did a good job guarding the three in the second half as well, although they did get five. We took guys out of their games defensively. Coach (Mike) DeWitt is a very good coach and has had some great teams over the years, and he said they (OWU) were going to have to ‘throw the kitchen sink at us’ to try and keep up with us. Beating the third-place team and scoring 88 points made for a good night, but there are still a lot of things ahead of us, and we are starting to nit-pick a bit. If we want this streak to continue, and to win the conference, host the conference tournament, and hopefully make the NCAA’s, I’m looking at the little things. Making all these things happen is rare air. Great seasons like this don’t happen often, and takes a lot of work.”

Brumett noted four newer players who have made big contributions in addition to the veteran core of Davidson, Schreiber and Watson.

“Sam Comer made his first start of the season tonight,” Brumett said of the sophomore from Danville (IN). He and Jesse (Hall – Crawfordsville freshman) have seen their roles magnified with Ahmoni Jones out (injury), and they have produced. We’ve got Vinny Buccilla (freshman) and Edreece Redmond (sophomore) who have changed our defensive identity. We held OWU to 30 points in the first half, and with our offense, that means teams have to play from behind and play catch-up. We had only nine turnovers, which gives us more possessions and that chance to hit 90. We are also getting good looks and good shots in our offense.”

Hall finished with 13 points, his sixth double-digit scoring night of the season.

The Little Giants take their win streak to Wooster for a Saturday chance to claim the outright NCAC crown. They won at home 94-80 in late January.

“We’ve never swept Wooster and Wittenberg in the same season,” Brumett said, noting the current 3-0 record against the conference foes. “This group’s goal is to win championships. This is what we as coaches try to build as our culture. The hard work in the offseason, the even harder work during the season, is what this is all about. I’m really pleased with how this group has embraced how Coach Sullivan, Coach (Matthew) Richter and Coach (Ron) Hendricks have pushed them toward success. Every experience will serve us in the next game, and this is what we expect to take to Saturday’s game. We have four guys averaging better than five rebounds a game. We have multiple guys having great seasons — several having all-conference or MVP seasons. This is how you have great seasons.”

The Saturday game is scheduled for a 2 pm start. After a trip to Greencastle next Wednesday, the Little Giants will honor their seniors at the last regular-season home game against Kenyon on Saturday Feb. 19.

The NCAC tournament starts Feb. 22 and runs through Feb. 26.

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