Ephs return to Div. III Final Four

With two decisive victories, the Williams college men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four, to be held in Salem, Virginia next weekend. After defeating Hamilton (17-10) Friday night 90-69, Williams then beat St. Lawrence 100-82, Saturday night in the East regional final. This is the second straight year the Ephs will travel to Salem, and they hope to improve on their third place finish a year ago. Commenting on his team’s recent play, tri-captain Brendan McGuire ’98 said, “We’re ecstatic. Defensively, we’re peaking right now. We’ve upped our game in every round, and I think we’re ready.” Added Matt Hunt ’99, “This is the perfect time for our offense and defense to be coming together. We’re playing as well as we have all year.”

Friday night, the Ephs looked to erase the last blemish from the regular season. The Hamilton Continentals were the last team to defeat Williams with a 104-93 victory in the regular season finale. Williams, now 25-3, had already exacted revenge on Amherst and Trinity, the only other two teams to have beaten them. Williams claimed the vindication trifecta with a spectacular 21 point victory. For the game, senior tri-captain and all-everything Mike Nogelo scored a game high 25 points, while Jim Frew ’99 scored 18 points, and both Hunt and McGuire scored 16 points a piece. Hamilton was led by Michael Shantz with 23 points and seven rebounds and Max Stroman who chipped in 13 points.

The game started out poorly for Williams, as Hamilton quickly jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the first three minutes. The Ephs battled back, though, and fought into the lead, 15-14, at the thirteen minute mark. The next nine minutes were marked by back and forth play, as the two teams traded the lead eight times, before Mike Holland ’99 tipped in a Frew miss to take the lead, 29-27. Williams then went on a 9-2 run to extend their lead to seven, 36-29, with just over two minutes left in the half. This streak was even more remarkable considering that both Nogelo and McGuire sat out the last five minutes of the half in foul trouble. The Ephs went onto the half with a four point lead, 39-35.

The second half began with a trademark Williams run, as a quick 7-0 burn put the lead to 11, 46-35. With his fourth rebound of the game, and his first of the second half, Nogelo broke another record, passing Brandt Johnson ‘87 to become Williams’s all-time leading rebounder. Hamilton struggled to catch up the entire second half, but never got closer than seven. Williams was able to extend their lead to as many as 20 during the period, and every time the Continentals seemed to gain some momentum, the Ephs would stymie the effort. McGuire hit a huge three pointer with five minutes left, nailing the coffin shut on the game.

Saturday’s game presented more of a challenge to the Ephs. St. Lawrence, the number one seed in the New York region, had only one loss, to Hamilton, and was undefeated at home for the season. The game started off even for both teams, and was filled with a lot of offense, as both teams shot the ball very well. With the Ephs up by one, 19-18, St. Lawrence went on a 13-4 run to take their biggest lead of the game, 31-23, aided by hitting six of their eight three point attempts. Williams then responded with a run of their own, outscoring St. Lawrence 13-2 over the next five minutes to recapture the lead, 36-33, with about three and a half minutes left in the first half. The Ephs entered the locker room with a 50-42 lead, helped by Nogelo’s 20 first half points.

Williams was 20 minutes away from a return to the Final Four, and played with desire to finish the job that they went north to handle. The Ephs used the first eight minutes of the second period to outscore St. Lawrence 22-6, a run in which Jim Frew ’99 had eight straight points. With nine minutes gone by, the Ephs had a commanding 25 point lead, and St. Lawrence looked ready to pack it in. Somehow, someway, something happened to St. Lawrence, and they were not about to give up without a fight. Over the next four minutes, they cut the lead on the strength of a 19-2 run, and pulled to within just eight on a trey by Travis Rocco, 79-71. Nogelo, however, was not about to let the game slip away, and with five and a half minutes left, hit a crucial three pointer to extend the lead back to 11 and put a dagger in the heart of the St. Lawrence run. Later, Nogelo would comment, “I want the ball in that situation, I want to take that shot. I want it to be on my shoulders.” The threat gone, the Ephs coasted over the next five minutes, and came out of the game with an eighteen point victory. As the players hugged, the 200 Williams fans chanted “This is our house” and “Final Four.”

For the game, Williams was led by Nogelo with an astounding 35 points, Jim Frew added 24 and Matt Hunt had 16. Andy Bardeschewski led St. Lawrence (24-2) with 20 points.

Williams is the only team to make a repeat appearance at the Final Four. Of the three others, defending national champion Illinois-Wesleyan lost to Gustavus Adolphus on Friday night, Nebraska-Wesleyan lost in the early rounds, and Alvernia College, the fourth place team last year, wasn’t even invited to the tournament this year. Friday night, Williams will play in the first game against undefeated Wisconsin-Platteville, while the second game features Hope College (MI) against Wilkes College .

Both games will be broadcast on WCFM and can be accessed at record.williams.edu/events.asp for RealAudio.

“I think our experience helped us through the regionals, and it will help down there [in Salem],” said Nogelo. “Last year, we were just impressed to be there, but this year we’ll enjoy it.”