College Basketball

Little Giants capture third-straight berth into NCAA Tournament

Wabash Coach Kyle Brumett cuts down the nets after the Little Giants championship win.
Codey Emerson/Journal Review

Wabash got some more practice cutting the nets down with a 75-64 win over Wooster to claim the NCAC tournament championship and an automatic bid to the D3 NCAA tournament next week.

The Little Giants head into the national playoffs with a 12-game win streak. They move to 20-8 and beat Wooster for the third time this season, and the eighth time in their last nine meetings.

Wabash wins the conference tournament for the third-straight season, with championship wins over the Fighting Scots all three times.

And mirroring last Saturday’s 10-point win over Wooster, it was three-point shooting and rebounding that made the difference.

The Little Giants made seven more treys than the visitors and were plus-nine on the glass.

Tournament Most Outstanding player Ahmoni Jones led the scoring with 22 points, going 6-of-8 from three-point range.

The senior also passed the 1.500-point career scoring mark, and moves closer to eighth on the all-time list.

He also will be making his third trip the D3 tournament.

“These championships never get old,” he said. “They just get sweeter and sweeter, and this one is especially sweet, because after the great senior class left two years ago, no body thought we could do this again, and counted us out. It shows the commitment to winning, not just by the seniors, but by the entire team and program.”

Jones got three triples in each half, all huge at the minute, as the top two seeds in the conference battled it out from minute one until just a couple minutes were left, when the Little Giants opened up the double-digit lead.

Last Saturday, it took a handful of minutes to start the rain of threes, but in this game, it started from the start, as Vinny Buccilla dropped a triple just over two minutes into the game. The junior would finish with 16 points, as he got inside five times to score, much to the dismay of the Wooster coaches.

In all, the Little Giants hit 14 three-point field goals on 24 tries, while the Fighting Scots hit only seven in their 24 long shots.

Five different Wabash players had a trey, including center Gavin Schippert, whose two three’s in less than three minutes of the second half gave the Chadwick Crazies yet more to yell about, and brought more angst to the Wooster bench.

While the long shots fell, and Wabash finished 44 percent from the field, there were inside moments that had the decibel meter pegged.

Noah Hupmann, named to the All-Tournament Team, had two field goals, both dunks that thrilled the large, and partisan, crowd.

The 7-2 junior also had 11 rebounds, one shy of tying his career-best. And five more blocked shots.

The handful gives Hupmann 16 blocks for the three-game tournament, shattering the old record. He stands at 72 for the season, which is Wabash record. Each block just added horsepower to the crowd’s volume.

“It’s timing and position,” the literal big guy said. “I try to see where the shooter is, and where he is coming from. It’s a blast to win, and the dunks are fun, but this is all about our team. We need to take the other team out of their game and get their big guys in foul trouble.”

One of those dunks was during a 12-2 run in the second half that saw the Little Giants take the lead on the ninth lead change of the game, but never gave it back.

“Noah’s 29 minutes might be the most he has had all season,” Wabash coach Kyle Brumett said. “He and Schippert combined for 15 points, 14 rebounds and the five blocks. It was big.”

Avery Beaver finished with 15 points, the third double-digit scorer.

“I said it yesterday after the Denison game and I say it again – Beaver is the best player in the conference,” Brumett said. “This 12-game win streak is because he has taken hold of the offense. His shooting has been close to All-American numbers, with nearly 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. On top of that, he had only eight turnovers in all the conference games. The guys trust him.”

The rebounding and defensive efforts were also on-point.

With a 40-31 board advantage, the Little Giants had 16 offensive rebounds that became 13 second-chance points. They limited the Fighting Scots to a 2-of-14 second half from three-point range.

“For several years, our offensive plan is to get to at least 10 three’s,” Brumett said, “and our defensive philosophy is keeping the opponent under 10. Our offense has really turned it up a notch, and it is with different guys. Yesterday, Denison decided to take Ahmoni away, and we found our way inside. Today, Ahmoni gets hot, we hit 14 three’s.”

The 12-win streak, the regular season and conference tournament titles are more icing on the cake for the seniors.

“The guys from two years ago still text and give me pointers,” Jones said. “Two years ago, those seniors brought me into their fold. They put me into position where now I have to make myself better and others around me better. Today means a lot. Two years ago I had those guys to lean on and this year the guys lean on me. What we have is the ability to count on each other.”

“He (Jones) chose to stay and be part of this team,” Brumett said. “I’m so proud of him. He is reaping the benefits of all that work and having the relationships he has with these guys.”

“This is pretty special,” Brumett continued. “There were some struggles earlier in the season, when we lost five in a row and six of seven. The older guys knew we weren’t right, that we weren’t good enough on defense or offense. These seniors have picked it up, and brought the younger guys along. It’s all about selflessness. The young guys have made a big difference. Guys like Randy Kelley with five assists and no turnovers today, to a senior like Edreece Redmond, who has seen his role change, but who just wants to win and leads by example.”

Those seniors also finish with a 49-9 record in total NCAC play, 40-9 in regular season and a 9-0 tournament record.

The Little Giants have also found the key to beating Wooster, who was seeking their 18th tournament title.

Wabash has now gone 8-1 vs the Fighting Scots in the last nine meetings.

Wabash is heading for the D3 NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season, and they will find out where they go and who they play on Monday afternoon.