Wabash took care of business and booked a return trip to Wooster for the weekend as they defeated Hiram 91-71 in the quarterfinal round of the NCAC tournament.
They will take on DePauw in the semifinals Friday.
Tallying a season-high points total, the Little Giants run their record to 19-7 for the season and defeat the Terriers for the third time this season, all by double-digits.
Leading the way for Wabash was Gavin Schippert. The freshman from Evansville scored a career-best 19 points, and added eight rebounds.
He scored the first points of the game, dropping a trey from the top of the key.
Feeling the shot, he hit two more triples in the first half, eclipsing his career-best before intermission. His three three’s now give him a dozen for the season.
“It was fun to watch Schipp come out and hit those early three’s,” Wabash coach Kyle Brumett said. “He’s a good shooter - he shoots a million of them in practice, and those he made puts him at 40 percent for the season, which is where we want to be. As a freshman, he has had to deal with a lot, and we are asking him to do a lot defensively. I’m really happy with how many two-point shots he hits, and then he was 4-of-5 from the line, had eight boards and doesn’t have a turnover. He is as good a freshman as I’ve ever coached. We need him to continue to be a threat offensively and especially strong on defense. When he hits some three’s like that, it opens our whole offense up for Vinny (Buccilla) and Ahmoni (Jones). That is exactly what we need from our 5 man (center).”
The 6-7 post earned his first start a dozen games into the season, and has worked his way into a team that went to the Final Four last year.
“I kind of knew I was going to Wabash during my senior year, but didn’t commit until after our season was done,” Schippert said. “I watched all of their games and felt that I could come in and help, get some rebounds and play solid defense. I shot three’s in high school, and our offense gets me open sometimes, after I set a double-screen. The guys got me the ball tonight, and I felt good about them. During the summer, I try to get 500 made three’s a week and 500 made free throws.”
The Little Giants jumped out to a double-digit lead faster than the cheer block could start hurling insults at the Terriers, who finish their season 10-15.
They took advantage of some missed shots by Wabash late in the first half to get their deficit under 10, but the home team started the second half on a 9-2 run, and that was that.
The Little Giants put four in double-digit scoring, starting with Schippert’s 19. Next was Sam Comer, who got close to his season-best with 18, Avery Beaver had his third double-figure game against Hiram with 16, and Jones had 14, with 12 in the second half.
For the game, Wabash was 49 percent from the field, 35 percent from long range and 79 percent from the line, outscoring the Terriers by 16 from the stripe. The starters had only seven turnovers.
Hiram was led by Noah Adams with 18 points, followed by Brodgie Gordon with 17. They were 42 percent from the floor, 23 percent from deep and 50 percent from the line. They only turned the ball over five times.
“Our starters really got us going,” Brumett said, as his team showed no effects from the last-second loss at Wooster Saturday. “Our defense was just so much better than the other two times we played Hiram. I was also reminding our guys regularly that we lost a 2-7 game just a couple years ago. Doing such a good job on defense allows us to exploit them in other places.”
The semifinals matchup against DePauw will be the rubber game of the season. Both teams have a home win in conference play. In the loss, the Little Giants didn’t shoot well, especially from the line. In the win, they were 17-of-19 from the line.
They will also have to deal with Elijah Hales, the DePauw senior who was second in the league scoring race with 18.2 per game. In the win, he had 33, and in the loss, he had 18.
Jones was the leading scorer for Wabash in both games, with 20 on the road and 27 at home.
The other half of the NCAC bracket on Friday will be host and league champs Wooster taking on Dennison. The winners play Saturday with the automatic league berth in the D3 NCAA tournament on the line.
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