By John Kerezy, eyeoncleveland.com founder
Preseason favorite Wooster, surging Wabash square
off a third time for NCAC crown and tournament bid
WOOSTER, FEB 25 – No one in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) is surprised that the College of Wooster’s Fighting Scots are in one of the two title slots for today’s NCAC men’s basketball championship. After all, Wooster was voted as the pre-season favorite to win the conference, as it returned four starters from a 19-9 season this year.
So, Wooster’s ’22-’23 season mark of 21-5 and first-place finish in the conference was both remarkable and predictable. Most observers felt the Fighting Scots had the inside track to its 19th consecutive NCAC crown.
But there’s a funny thing about titles. When someone holds it, they strive hard to keep it. Last year the Wabash Little Giants won both the regular season and post-season NCAC championships by defeating Wooster three times, the last one an 85-84 overtime thriller in Crawfordsville. The team went 28-4, and rode a modern best ever 24-game winning streak all the way to the NCAA Division III national quarterfinal game.
Wabash was picked third in the NCAC pre-season poll this season. After all, the team had lost three key starters, and many felt the Little Giants would be rebuilding in 2022-2023.
But they confused rebuilding with reloading, and that’s just what the defending tournament champions have done by going 20-7 and splitting the home-and-home season series against Wooster. Wabash pounded Wooster 83-68 on January 7 in Crawfordsville, Ind. Wooster avenged that with a thrilling 75-74 victory on a last-second Turner Kurt 3-point shot just a week ago, Feb. 18, at Timken Gym.
Now the two teams meet once again at Timken at 4 p.m. today. So today’s game is a rematch. It’s also a rematch of last year’s NCAC tournament final.
On the line is the NCAC tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III 64-team playoffs. The winner is assured of going to the dance, while the loser will have to wait until Monday to see if it receives one of up to 20 “Pool C” bids to nationals.
PATH TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Second-seeded Wabash took a page out of Wooster’s playbook – a balanced attack – and survived a DePauw comeback to claim a 75-67 triumph over the No. 6 seeded Tigers in the first semifnal game Friday night.
The Little Giants put six players in double figures in the win, including junior forwards Ahmoni Jones and Sam Comer recording double-doubles. Ahmoni led the Little Giants with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Comer added 10 of each. Vinny Buccilla and Edreece Redmond each notched 11 points, but it was freshmen Gavin Schippert (11 points, four rebounds) and Josh Whack (14 points) who really helped the cause.
“Six guys in double figures. I’m not sure if any of my teams have ever had that many in doubles,” Brumett said after the game. He also praised Schippert and Whack for stepping up their play and doing well in key roles.
(Below is a link to a more complete story on the Friday semifinal game, appearing in the Crawfordsville Journal Review).
Wooster took an early lead and never looked back in beating No. 4 seed Denison 79-54 in the second contest. Elijah Meredith and Najee Hardaway both scored 15 points for the Fighting Scots, with Nick Everett adding 11 and Jami Billings contributing with 7 points and team-high 6 rebounds. A blistering Wooster attack shot 57% from the field, 39% from three-point country, and 83% from the foul line.
(Below is a link to a more complete story on the other Friday semifinal game, appearing in the Wooster Daily Record)
For the Fighting Scots, playing for the championship is familiar territory. This is the 29th time in the 38-year history of the NCAC Tournament that Wooster has been in the finals. Wabash and Wooster have faced each other three times before, and Wooster won two of those.
But last year the “W” and the conference tournament title went to Wabash, and the visiting team is laser focused on winning the championship once again.
One key to a Little Giant victory in the NCAC final is shooting. “We will need to shoot the ball better,” Brumett said after the DePauw victory. “We made 11 3s (against DePauw) and that was huge. It’ll be big tomorrow that we don’t leave empty possessions.”
If you want to hear Wabash Coach Kyle Brumett’s post-game comments, click here:
If you want to hear DePauw Coach Rusty Loyd’s post-game comments, click here:
If you want to hear post-game remarks from Ahmoni Jones and Edreese Redmond II, click here:
Both Wooster and Wabash posted triumphs over quality opponents this season. The Fighting Scots downed Heidelberg, 3rd place finisher in the Ohio Athletic Conference, 68-65. The Little Giants’ season includes victories over the UAA Conference’s Washington University (18-6, and most recently defeated Carnegie Mellon 81-57), and also both Rose Hulman and Anderson, who play today for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title and automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament. Wabash also defeated Maryville (Tn) College, which competes for the Collegiate Conference of the South’s conference title later today as well.
ATTENDING, FOLLOWING THE FINALS
Below is the link to ticket information and policies about tickets for the game on Saturday Feb. 25. If you’re driving, the College of Wooster’s address is 1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster Ohio 44691.
Media Coverage: MCTV will produce the livestream of both semifinal games and the championship game and they can be viewed at https://northcoastnetwork.com/wooster. MCTV customers living in Wayne and Stark Counties can catch replays of Wooster’s games over the weekend and should consult local listings for times. Mike Breckenridge’s call of Wooster’s game can be heard on WKVX 960 AM and online at https://wqkt.com. Fans can also follow the live stats link on Wooster’s men’s basketball schedule page and check for periodic score updates on the men’s basketball team’s Twitter account @ScotsBasketball.
LINK TO MOST CURRENT STATISTICS