The key to basketball is the transition game; the transition is the bridge between a strong defensive effort and a productive offensive output. The Williams College men’s basketball team gave a clinic in the transition this past week, dismembering first Middlebury 87-58 last Tuesday and then Little Three rival Wesleyan 98-56 last Saturday night.
The Ephs played their first two solid games of the season both offensively and defensively last week. After losing to Amherst January 17, in what was a masterpiece of mediocrity, the Ephs returned home to play what might turn out to be the pivotal week of the season.
This week was critical for the Ephs because the rematch against Amherst is this upcoming Saturday. In order to have a chance to defeat Amherst Williams needs to connect what has been a strong defense all season to their capable offense. With the Ephs offensive firepower showcased against Middlebury and Wesleyan, their transition game looks complete.
Last week Matt Hunt ’99 was the catalyst to the Williams offense. His ability to drain the three pointer is well known, by both fans and other teams. Perhaps the only thing that he sinks more than three pointers are the oppositions’ chances of winning. “Everybody on the team is getting better looks. This past week we went back to fundamentals, working on our offense,” said Hunt. “The coaches challenged us and we had to refocus.”
Tuesday, Middlebury fell to the Ephs in a game that was barely contested. After Williams jumped out to a 17-2 lead, they immediately silenced any criticisms about slow starts. When they were up 25-4 with only 7 minutes gone in the first half, they buried all of the bad memories of the Amherst loss. This game was Ephs basketball, the juggernaut that it is, in all of its glory.
In the first half, Williams shot 58% from the field, including 4 of 7 from behind the 3 point arc, scoring 49, while holding the Panthers to just 25 points on 11 of 35 shooting. The second half was more of the same, as Middlebury was only able to get one player, guard Chris McLaughlin, into double figures. Williams was led by Mike Holland ’99 with 16 points and 9 rebounds and Hunt with 18 points and 4 rebounds.
Saturday night, the Wesleyan Cardinals looked to improve upon their 5-5 record at the expense of the Ephs. This was a team that played Amherst close early in the season, so there was some cause for concern before tip-off. But then the game began, and Williams jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the first six minutes. Although Wesleyan was able to close the gap to 6 at 19-13, Brendan McGuire ’98 went on a critical 5 point run to snuff out any hopes of a close game. To end the half, Hunt hit a three from the corner to leave the score 44-32.
The second half seemed only to show why Williams is so good. As the Ephs extended their lead, they were not content to rest or play conservatively. Relentlessly Williams fought for rebounds, grabbing 51 boards compared to Wesleyan’s 25. McGuire and Sean Kennan ’00 aggressively dove for loose balls. Mike Nogello ’98 and Hunt hit their shots smoothly. Williams was fluent, dominant, and hungry for the win. The Ephmen hit 55% of their shots in the second half and held the Cardinals to only 8 field goals and 24 points during the same span.
Nogelo, highlighting his first start of the season, scored a game high 26 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. McGuire had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Hunt added 22 points.
“We were outstanding,” said Williams coach Harry Sheehy, as he stood proudly in Chandler Gym after Saturday’s game. “All season long, we’ve been emphasizing defense, although the past few days we’ve concentrated on offense, because that’s what we’ve been lacking.”
There is a tough week ahead for the Ephs beginning with a trip to Skidmore on Tuesday, followed by a home game against Trinity on Friday night. The week culminates with the Saturday rematch against the Lord Jeffs. The early rumor is that the ’Herst plans to pack Chandler, and all fans are strongly urged to show up early to get seats. When asked about the upcoming rematch, Hunt replied “we know we didn’t play [to] our potential, and we know we’re a better team. We’d love to go into that game with two more wins under our belt.” It looks as though the Ephs transition is complete.