The Cards’ impressive 19-6 regular season record has earned them a chance to continue their season with an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III Championships. After an exciting season, which was highlighted by an upset victory over then-No. 4 Marietta College and a historic Little Three title, Wes will fight to stay alive against Union College in Rochester, N.Y. on March 3.
The award of an at-large bid comes after the Cards’ first-round loss against Trinity in the NESCAC Tournament. The Bantams went on to get crushed by Middlebury 76-60, who glided past Williams 84-62 in the next round, to win the tournament. Wesleyan is one of the five NESCAC teams who will move on to the NCAA Championship, with the others being Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, and Tufts.
Union will likely prove to be a competitive opponent for Wesleyan on Friday. The team posted a 16-10 overall record this season and is coming off a Liberty League Championship. Against Trinity, the Cards struggled with rebounds and failed to gain any offensive momentum. Hopefully, facing Trinity’s intense defense will have the Cards prepared to keep up with Union’s offensive juggernaut, senior guard Deshon Burgess. This will be the Dutchmen’s first time appearing in the tournament since 2004.
Sophomore Jordan Bonner never doubted that the team had earned the at-large bid.
“I told everyone on the team after the loss to Trinity to believe,” said Bonner. “No matter what happens, we know that we belong in the tournament and are the best team in the country. Hands down.”
Captain Harry Rafferty ’17 is excited for the opportunity to extend his final season and lead the team into the championship.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for our team,” said Rafferty. “To get the first at-large bid in program history is very cool. However, our goal at the beginning of the season was to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament, not just make it into the field. So while we are excited, our work is far from finished and we realize that now more than ever we have to be mission focused.”
If the Cards win, they will face either the University of Rochester or Albertus Magnus College on Saturday, March 4. Both of these teams will be formidable opponents, each posting over 20 wins in their respective campaigns.
Head coach Joe Reilly sees the at-large bid as the result of the team’s hard work over the season’s course.
“[I’m] very excited for the team,” said Reilly. “They have put a lot of hard work in this season and have earned this NCAA bid. Harry [Rafferty] and Joseph [Kuo ’17] have really stepped up as seniors and it will be a great week of practice. We know we can compete with anyone in the country—now it is time to do it.”
Rafferty and Kuo have each had strong final seasons, both averaging around 12 points in their 25 games this season. The guard and forward duo have played key roles on the team since they arrived in Middletown back in 2013.
This is the second time ever that Wesleyan has made it to the NCAA Championships. The Cardinals last qualified after the 2014-15 season, when they gained an automatic berth by virtue of their NESCAC crown. That year, the Cards lost 66-81 to Skidmore in the first round. Being chosen for the bid highlights the men’s basketball team’s impressive rise ever since Reilly took the helm of the team in 2008. Under Reilly, the team has posted over a .500 win average for the first time since Herb Kenny’s reign back in the early 1990s.