After an exceedingly impressive regular season, the Wabash basketball team finished second in the NCAC on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater loss at Wooster last Saturday, February 19. As a result, the Little Giants entered the NCAC tournament as the No. 2 overall seed at 19-7 (11-5 NCAC) in regular season play.
After a dominant, wire-to- wire victory over Hiram on Tuesday, February 21, the team heads back to Wooster to play in the NCAC tournament semifinals, with a semifinal showdown against rivals DePauw. However, it is important to understand how the Little Giants got to this position and Wabash’s prospects going into the final rounds of the tournament.
With the loss of an experienced senior class at the end of the 2021-22 season, including National Player of the Year Jack Davidson ’22, the Wabash faithful went into the beginning of the 2022-2023 regular season uncertain. How would the new-look Little Giants respond to the challenge of graduating the heart of the team? And would they continue to be one of the best teams in the NCAC?
This young squad more than answered those questions. Wabash took the community by storm, doing far better than most Wabash students and fans expected. But that is not to say that the regular season was filled with triumphs and smooth victories. There were many hiccups on the road. Looking back at the season, it’s easy to see that, as with most young teams, the year was filled with ups and downs.
High: Home non-conference victory over WashU
In only their second game of the season, Wabash welcomed nationally-ranked Washington University-St. Louis, a formidable foe, to Crawfordsville. After narrowly escaping the season opener with a 81-78 victory over Mount St. Joseph University just days before, the Chadwick Crazies were animated but anxious for the arrival of WashU.
However, in a continually close contest, Wabash entered halftime with a 37-30 lead. The multi-faceted attack of Vinny Buccilla ’25 (who added 15 points) and Edreece Redmond ’24 and Sam Comer ’24 (who each added 14 points) eventually led to a 70-67 victory.
In addition to the diversified scoring attack of the Little Giants, Wabash’s defense had arguably one of its best games of the season, shutting down WashU’s strong interior presence and forcing 15 turnovers. As a result, the Little Giants firmly established that, on their day, they could compete with the best.
Low: Home non-conference loss to Earlham
Coming off the impressive victory over WashU and several close victories over other Indiana basketball teams, most thought that Earlham would be another good opportunity for our young team to gain some experience and minutes against weaker opposition. However, Earlham dominated the first half, entering halftime up 33-22.
While the Quakers played one of their better games of the season, it was ultimately the uncharacteristically sloppy play of the Little Giants that led to the defeat. Throughout the game, Wabash turned the ball over 16 times, leading directly to 18 points for Earlham. Additionally, Earlham guard Jaden Terry consistently dictated the pace, leading all scorers with 21 points.
Down the stretch, the Quakers’ lead and Wabash’s mistakes were insurmountable for the Little Giants. While Earlham’s Terry did drop 60 points over two games last week, the Quakers fell to a dismal 5-20 on the season. Consequently, this home loss served as Wabash’s worst defeat of the season, especially considering that the game was at Chadwick.
High: Home conference victory over Wooster
In the most dominant performance of the regular season, Wabash whooped Wooster in a rematch of the 2022 NCAC Men’s Basketball Tournament final, beating the Fighting Scots 83-68.
Although the Scots were leading early in the second half, a red-hot offensive performance, facilitated by 62% from the field and 52% from three, allowed Wabash to ease past Wooster down the stretch. Additionally, the Little Giants were aided by collective team scoring, with five players scoring in double figures, led by Avery Beaver’s ’24 18 points.
By the midway point of the second half, Wabash had extended the lead to fifteen points and stifled much of the Scots’ offense. Although Wooster would end up winning the outright NCAC regular season title on the last play of the season, this overwhelming performance demonstrated that the Little Giants have what it takes to win the NCAC tournament.
Low: Away conference loss at DePauw
In the first contest against our hated rivals, an explosive second half performance by the Dannies saw DePauw come from behind to beat the Little Giants in Greencastle. Thanks to a 56-point second half, including an astronomical 31 points from DePauw Senior Elijah Hales, the Dannies continued to apply pressure to Wabash’s defense, exposing the recurring theme of Wabash’s inability to limit primary scorers‘ offensive production.
While there were some impressive signs for the Little Giants, including 36 bench points and the forcing of 15 turnovers, Hales’ big half was too much for Wabash to overcome. Consequently, DePauw had their day in Dannyville.
Luckily, in the second matchup between the two rivals, the energy and raucous atmosphere of Chadwick, along with a significantly more successful limitation of Hales, allowed Wabash to take the game and split the season series.
High: Home conference comeback against OWU
Arguably the best victory of the year, Wabash’s comeback against Ohio Wesleyan was perfectly emblematic of the grit and determination that defines Wabash: Wabash Always Fights!
Coming off a dominant performance against the school down south in our return matchup, Wabash looked to capitalize on the momentum of trouncing our rivals with another statement win at Chadwick. However, the gritty determination of Ohio Wesleyan, combined with the smooth scoring of their leader Jack Clement, meant that the Little Giants found themselves down late in the game.
With less than 20 seconds left, Ahmoni Jones ’24 closed the four-point gap down to a one possession game with a tough fadeaway three-pointer. After intentionally fouling, Wabash got the ball back again, only down two. Once again, Jones elevated over the Ohio Wesleyan de- fender and hit the game winning three, sinking the Battling Bishops.
The 76-75 victory put the Little Giants in control of their own destiny down the stretch of the regular season, while interesting mirroring Ohio Wesleyan’s victory over Wabash in the reverse fixture, also 76-75.
This Friday at 5:30 p.m. the Little Giants will face off against DePauw for the third time this season, with a spot in the NCAC championship on the line.