After losing its first game of the season last weekend at home, the Williams College men’s basketball team hit the road, hoping a break from Chandler Gym would get them back on track. The trips, which represented the first road games on the year for the squad, went well, as the Ephs picked up two crucial conference victories over Wesleyan and Middlebury last week. In the process of advancing the team record to 10-1, senior guard Jim Frew established himself as the school’s all-time assist leader. Frew surpassed Noah Clarke’s ’95 mark of 405 career assists, and now has 409 in his four years, including 54 this season.
Williams went into the Wesleyan game on Saturday night knowing they were facing the same squad that had whipped Amherst 78-61 the week before the Jeffs upset the Ephs. However, Williams, currently ranked tenth in the Columbus Multimedia national poll, was not about to be intimidated by the Cardinals, a perennial NESCAC basketball doormat. Though the first half was low scoring, Williams used a late run to take over the game. At the 6:51 mark, the Ephs were up 15-12 and then went on a 13-4 scoring run over the next 4:30 to increase their lead to 12 at 28-16. At the half Williams held a comfortable 32-22 lead.
In the second half, the Ephs staved off Wesleyan’s attempts to get back into the game by making clutch free throws. Wesleyan got within six points with 2:31 showing on the clock, but the Ephs hit 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch to ensure a 75-66 victory.
Overcoming poor shooting was the story on the night for both teams. The Williams shooters, who had not been shooting the ball well of late, managed only 33 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from behind the three-point arc. Luckily, the Ephs were solid from the stripe. On the game, Williams hit 35 of 43 free throws to seal the win. Wesleyan was slightly better from the field at 38 percent, but managed only 7/15 foul shooting.
Matt Hunt ’99 led the Williams scoring with 25 points on 5/16 shooting, including three of six from long range. Hunt also was 12/13 on his free throws and snagged seven rebounds. The trio of Mike Holland ’99, Sean Keenan ’00 and Dan Dickens ’01 each contributed 11 points. Holland, who is a legitimate threat to post a double-double every time out, pulled down a team-high nine boards. Frew, after setting the assist record on his third dish of the night, notched a total of six assists but had a tough night shooting, missing all seven of his attempts from the field. He did, however, continue his near perfection from the line, making seven of his eight free throw attempts. Point guard Jim Sheehy ’00 added four assists and two steals.
Wesleyan, which drops to 8-6 on the year with the loss, was paced by the efforts of Sean O’Brien and Leo Jones who both tallied 14 points. Jones also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Last Tuesday the Ephmen traveled up north to face Middlebury in an early season NESCAC match up. The Ephs trailed 34-33 at halftime, but they battled hard in the second half, making up the deficit and going on to a 79-76 win. Hunt had a fine performance, totaling 28 points, converting four of his seven three-point tries and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Frew added 12 and Dickens 11. Holland snagged 10 boards and Frew grabbed nine. John Barrett led Middlebury with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Though the team enjoyed the victory over Middlebury, they also suffered a loss that could prove critical as the season goes on. In the Middlebury game, forward/center Manny Benjamin ’01 tore ligaments in his knee and could miss much of the season with the injury. Benjamin had been averaging four rebounds and five points a game off of the bench, but, more importantly, he was a physical and energetic presence underneath the basket that will be hard to replace. The injury will now put more pressure on Holland, Dickens and Keenan to produce and stay out of foul trouble.
Williams next plays host to non-league foe Skidmore on Tuesday, January 26th at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler. After this game, the team faces another tough weekend with battles against Trinity and Amherst on the road. After these games, it should become clearer how the deep NESCAC will play out this season.