Sweet 16 here we come

The playoffs began this past week, and the march to the Final Four took on a loud and rambunctious tone as the men’s basketball team defeated first Trinity 89-63, and then Springfield, 82-75. Capacity crowds followed the Ephs everywhere they went this week, as fans packed both Chandler Gymnasium and Springfield’s home court to cheer on the Big Purple. Williams now advances to the regional semifinals, and will play Hamilton Friday night at St. Lawrence.

Tuesday night, Trinity College came to Williamstown with unique distinction, as they were the only team to beat Williams on their home court in the past three years. Looking for vengeance, the Ephs quickly jumped out to a 9-0 lead, fueled by an early dunk by tri-captain Mike Nogelo ‘98 that electrified the crowd. The Bantams, however, were able to tie the score at 15-15 with about eleven minutes left to play in the half. The Ephs hit right back, scoring the next seven points, which included a three-pointer by Matt Hunt ‘99. They then outscored Trinity 28-17 for the rest of the half, entering the locker room with a comfortable 11 point lead, 43-32.

The rowdy crowds were loud throughout the game, as Trinity imported a large contingent of their faithful into Williamstown. Perhaps the highlight of the night came when Trinity student Tim Barrett ‘99 took off most of his clothes and ran around the gym floor during a time out. Security was then called in to escort a number of Bantam fans out of the building, as tensions between the opposing fan groups mounted. Indeed, two Trinity students were later arrested and forced to spend a night in the Williamstown jail for drunken and disorderly conduct.

About one minute into the second half, Trinity forward Kevin Bednar ‘99 head-butted Nogelo, opening a gash on Nogelo’s forehead that forced him to leave the game for about five minutes. The cut required three stitches, and while Nogelo was in the locker room, Trinity seized the advantage, and narrowed the Williams lead to just four points. Nogelo said of the incident, “I was a little pissed off. It’s a war out there, it’s the NCAA tournament, but it made me angry.” When he returned to the game, he scored the next 10 Williams points, including two long-range three-pointers, and crushed any of Trinity’s hopes.

Nogelo scored 31 points while pulling down 11 rebounds to lead both teams. Hunt and Jim Frew ‘99 both scored 14 points for the Ephs. Trinity was paced by guard Craig Moody ‘98 with 17 points, and forward John Mulfinger ‘99, who added 16 points and a team high seven rebounds. “I thought we played hard,” Moody said after the game. “Give them credit.”

Trinity’s coach, Stan Ogrodnik, also praised the Ephs, saying “Nogelo is a great player, he’s got tournament toughness. But this is hardly a one-man team. These guys are all about taking care of business.”

Saturday night, the Ephs traveled to Springfield to take on the number one seed in the Northeast region, Springfield College. Earlier in the season, Williams humiliated Springfield in Chandler, 82- 63. Springfield, however, looked to eliminate the only blemish from their entire season, and welcomed the Ephs.

In front of a standing-room only crowd, and beneath a giant banner that read “The Birthplace of Basketball,” it would have seemed that the Springfield Pride had the ultimate home court advantage. It was not to be Springfield’s night, however, as Williams led the entire game, sometimes by as many as 15, and won by seven points, 82-75.

Nogelo was brilliant again, scoring 30 points for the Ephs. For example, with Williams up 15, the Pride went on a 9-0 run to close the gap to just six points. With the momentum slowly turning away from Williams, Nogelo stepped up and made a three-point play to extend the lead back to nine. That shot, about half way through the second half, was the dagger in the heart of the Pride.

Hunt added 23 points for the Ephs, and tri-captain Brendan McGuire ‘98 added nine points, despite sitting out some of the second half in foul trouble. Springfield was led by Donta Johnson with 17 points, and Phil Robinson with 16 points and seven rebounds.

With the upcoming Hamilton rematch, Williams looks to make its revenge sweep complete. Having already beaten two of the three teams they had lost to in the regular season, Williams will bring its playoff intensity into the rematch with Hamilton Friday night.

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