College Basketball

Little Giants Capture Conference Title


Their motto is “Wabash Always Fights.”

On Saturday afternoon at a packed Chadwick Court, their mantra was “Wabash Never Misses.”

Today’s moniker is “Conference Champions.”

The Little Giants cut down the nets after scorching them at a 62 percent shooting rate as they defeated Wooster 91-81 to claim the NCAC regular season championship for the second time in three seasons.

Hot from everywhere nearly the entire game, Wabash at one point was hitting their three-pointers at a 67 percent clip, and they finished with a season-best 57.7 percent mark from long range.

The 91 points is also a season-best, and the 61.7 percent overall shooting percentage is 12 points better than any game this season.

The Little Giants move to 17-8 overall, win their ninth in a row, and claim the top seed in next week’s conference tournament with a 13-3 conference record.

Leading the way was one of the five seniors who made Senior Day quite special.

Avery Beaver had a career-best 27 points and the Lafayette Jeff grad was 7-of-10 from three-point range.

“Coach Brum, Coach (Patrick) Sullivan and all the coaches put us in good position for shots with their scouting and their game plan,” Beaver said. “We just look for that open shot.”

“They may have left Beaver open for a few too many,” quipped Wabash junior Vinny Buccilla, who kept pace with Beaver, scoring 23 points on a 7-of-9 overall shooting day, and a 5-of-6 afternoon from long range.

The long-range sniping was necessary to offset the Fighting Scots dominance inside, especially early on.

Wooster, who falls to 16-7 on the season and 12-4 in the league, took the game into the paint in the early stages, jumping out to a 9-2 and eventually an 18-10 lead, without a field goal from more than arms-length from the rim. Two Wabash big men had two fouls each.

Then the Little Giants opened the can of three-pointers.

Beaver hit his first, and team’s first, three-pointer with 10:53 left in the half, starting a 21-6 run, fueled by five treys.

Wooster took advantage of some uncharacteristic Wabash turnovers to come back with an 11-2 run.

Ahmoni Jones hit a shot clock beating, NBA range, three and the Little Giants led 38-37 at the half.

A couple lead changes started the second half, but a Beaver trey with 14:10 to go gave the home team the lead that they never relinquished.

“It is a satisfying win,” Wabash coach Kyle Brumett noted. “This is what we recruited these seniors for. This is what they signed up for – to have this level of success. We game-plan for 10 three’s a game. We try to have four shooters on the floor all the time, and we know we have to be ready to shoot against a really good team like Wooster. They have been the standard of the league for so long, and to be able to have won seven of the last eight against them is a source of pride for these seniors and our program.”

That story goes back to last season, when the Fighting Scots beat the Little Giants at Wooster on a last-second three to win the regular-season title, only to have Wabash win the tournament championship and claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Sam Comer, one of those five seniors, added 15 points, and was 6-of-6 from the line, as Wabash was just as good at the stripe, going 18-of-21. Comer also handed out four assists.

“The coaches always tell us to look up on the wall,” Comer said. “There are only two other teams that are on the wall as NCAC champs.”

Comer and Beaver, along with Jones, Edreece Redmond and Champ McCorkle, will be looking for their third straight trip to the NCAA postseason tournament, but will have to win three games next week. They good part is that all three games will be at home, courtesy of the #1 seed and conference title. Wooster will be the #2 seed.

“Our seniors know the urgency of this,” Brumett said. “They know they have a limited number of games left, and in addition to their load of minutes, they have to mentor the younger players and show them what to expect. We have a lot of guys that are great ball players who are not getting a lot of minutes, but that is the nature of the game sometimes. These guys didn’t get a lot of minutes sometimes a couple years ago, and now they lead. I also want to send a huge thank-you to all the students and fans who made Chadwick such a formidable place today, and a second thanks to so many basketball alums who came today. They were all great teammates and they are all great Wabash men.”

“We lead by example or if we need to be vocal leaders,” Beaver said. “This is such a special place and this is a special team.”

“We knew we had to pick the energy up,” Comer said of the December and early January five-game losing streak that was halted by what can be called a turnaround win at Wooster on Jan. 6. “It’s urgency and effort, and we brought that. It goes back to the summer, when we are all out on internships and go to the gym after that. The hard work from then pays off now.”

The Little Giants will play host to Kenyon in the first round of the NCAC Tournament on Tuesday, and with a win, will host the semifinals and finals of the tourney next Friday and Saturday.