As far as victories go, it wasn?t the prettiest. There was extremely physical play, controversial refereeing and poor shooting. But none of it mattered for men?s basketball, which managed to win its own tournament with an 80-78 win over visiting Clark University on Saturday afternoon. The win moves the team to 6-0 on the season, and keeps the Williams Invitational plaque in its hometown for another year.
While the key to the Williams victory was undoubtedly a strong collective effort, the leadership of co-captain Drew DeMuth ?03 was especially notable, earning him tournament MVP honors. His dominating play in the first half netted him 12 points and nine rebounds at the break. His most important contribution, perhaps, was in spirit, as he returned from an early second-half injury to lead the Ephs down the stretch. DeMuth sported a protective mask as a result of the injury.
The final moments of regulation included a number of lead changes in the last ten minutes following a strong effort by Clark to close Williams? 17-point lead. With the absence of DeMuth?s physical presence, the Cougars were able to get to the line often, as well as improve upon their poor shooting in the first half. Much of the Ephs? hard-won momentum dissipated during this period, a victim of choppy play and a lack of pace.
Williams countered with all-Tournament selection Tim Folan ?03, whose hot hand from the field helped Williams throughout the contest, and Ben Coffin ?04, who gathered clutch rebounds and played solid defense.
Folan finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Coffin did a little bit of everything, scoring eight with eight boards while chipping in five assists.
Defense, as it so often does, made the difference down the stretch for Williams, whose suffocating style made life miserable for Clark. Given the responsibility for guarding the opposition?s high scorer and all-Tournament selection Sean Fleming, point guard Mike Crotty ?04 stepped up admirably, forcing hurried shots and turnovers. Jaris Cole ?05 and Chuck Abba ?04 worked hard as well, shutting down the vaunted Clark shooters. The Ephs were aided in their efforts in the final minutes of the game by a notable size advantage, as both of Clark?s big men fouled out.
Overtime was a tense affair, with Williams taking an early lead off a sole free throw. A slowdown allowed Clark to climb back into the contest, with a jumper from Fleming putting the score at 75-72 in favor of Clark at the 3:30 mark of OT. A clutch three-pointer from Crotty drew the score even at 75 with 2:25 remaining, breaking the spirit of the Cougars. Williams used free-throws and inside scoring to take the lead for the last time, moving five points out in front.
Inconsistent officiating hurt both teams throughout the game, with a multitude of questionable calls marring a hard-played contest. At one point, DeMuth was injured by an elbow from Clark?s Pat Oroszko; DeMuth was called for a foul on the play, incensing head coach Dave Paulsen, who was assessed a technical foul on the play.
The closing moments of the game were marked by non-calls by the officials during physical play under the Williams basket, causing a veritable firestorm of protest from the Clark bench.
The win pushed Williams to 6-0 on the season, their best start since the ?99 campaign. That fifth win came at the expense of hapless College of the St. Joseph, as the Ephs cruised to a 73-35 victory on Friday night. The Fighting Saints did not live up to their namesake, failing to have a player score in double digits. Williams had no such problem; Folan?s 22 points and Coffin?s 12 points and 13 boards came primarily in the first half, allowing Coach Paulsen to substitute in a number of reserves for the bulk of the second.
Both the result and the effort pleased Paulsen: ?In a game like this it?s easy to let up, but we continued to play hard throughout, even if it wasn?t the prettiest game,? he said.
The only game in the tournament to rival the final for excitement was the opener, in which Clark downed the Lasell College Lasers 111-101, in overtime. The Lasers were led by 33 points from swingman Dwayne Okantey, but Clark?s solid three-point shooting, along with 19 points from Dave McNamera, were enough to catapult them into the final. Lasell took third place in the tournament on Saturday in a squeaker, 104-56 over the College of St. Joseph.
The hearty Mohawks of MCLA will make the trip from North Adams to challenge the Ephs this Saturday. The game is at 2 p.m in Chandler Gym.