freshman Vinny Buccilla hit a three-point basket with 40 seconds left to put Wabash up by nine points and sealed Saturday’s NCAA Division III Men’s Tournament Sectional Championship with a final layup for the Little Giants’ 81-75 win over Illinois Wesleyan. The victory sends Wabash to the tournament semifinals for the first time since the Little Giants won the national title in 1982.
Wabash (28-3) trailed the host Titans (24-6) by two points at 62-60 with 7:33 left in the game before outscoring Illinois Wesleyan 19-13. Buccilla’s dagger capped a six-point run by the Little Giants after the Titans has closed the gap to three points on a pair of Matthew Leritz free throws.
“An incredible game,” Wabash head coach Kyle Brumett said. “Starting with the atmosphere, our crowd, our following. And then you come here. There were some flashbacks. I played here, sitting on the bench when Dave Benner came here and played a really tough Illinois Wesleyan team that went on to win the national championship. We have used Illinois Wesleyan as the barometer for what we’re trying to become.”
Wabash jumped out quickly to a 10-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. Illinois Wesleyan quickly recovered and drew even at 14-14 with 11:04 remaining in the first period. The Little Giants regained a six-point lead with five minutes left in the half only to see IWU pull in front by as many as eight points at 37-29. Jack Davidson nailed a three-point shot to make it a five-point game with 1:31 on the first-half clock. The Titans scored with 34 seconds remaining but Ahmoni Jones answered with a fall-away basket from the left baseline just before the halftime buzzer sounded to keep the game at five points at 39-34.
The Little Giants got off to another good start in the second half, tying the score at 45-45 three minutes into the final period. The two teams traded leads until the midway point of the period when a two-pointer from Luke Yoder and a basket by Ryan Sroka pushed IWU back in front 60-55. Jones hit a free throw ahead of two free throws from Kellen Schreiber and a layup from Schreiber after a blatant foul call against IWU. That series evened the score at 60-60 with eight minutes left to play.
Yoder scored a pair of free throws before Davidson answered with four straight free throws to put Wabash back in front 62-64. Buccilla made it a five-point lead for the Little Giants with the first of his two three-point baskets in the game. Wabash maintained the 5- to 6-point margin until Buccilla’s shot in the final minute to put the Little Giants up nine.
Davidson led all scorers with 29 points, scoring 18 in the second half. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Tyler Watson finished with 18 points, five assists, and eight rebounds. Schreiber scored 13 second-half points as part of a 15-point effort for the game. Jones added 11 points and Buccilla chipped in eight points.
Lentz led Illinois Wesleyan with 21 points. Yoder added 20 points for the Titans.
Wabash plays Elmhurst College in the second semifinal game of the DIII Men’s Tournament at 7:30 pm on Friday, March 18 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Randolph-Macon College and Marietta College play in the first semifinal game at 5 pm The two winning teams will play for the 2022 Division III Men’s Championship on Saturday, March 19 at 6 pm
Ticket information for the semifinal games is available at https://www.visitfortwayne.com/event/ncaa-division-iii-mens-basketball-championships/29753/.