In the press conference following Thursday night’s overwhelming victory over Cazenovia, Head Coach Dave Paulsen made it clear to all present what he saw as the most important aspect of the upcoming game against Rochester. “We can’t get in foul trouble,” he said. “If we have our big guys on the bench in the first half, then the game is over.”
He was more right than he knew.
Poor decision-making, worse shooting and a fair dose of foul trouble characterized the Ephs’ season-ending loss to the University of Rochester Yellowjackets in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, by a final score of 66-51.
The loss, occurring before a record crowd at the Palestra in downtown Rochester, leaves the Williams record at 22-6 on the year, making this the tenth consecutive season the Ephs have reached the 20-win plateau.
The final tally by Williams was a full 70 points less than the Ephs scored against Cazenovia two days before, and six fewer than the team had in the first half of that game alone.
The massive turnaround can be ascribed to the tenacious defense of the Yellowjackets (22-4), who are currently ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (58.1 points allowed per game), and were without question one of the stronger defensive squads the Ephs faced all year.
Perhaps exacerbating the situation was the fact that the Cazenovia team of two days prior was laughably weak on the defensive end, and had allowed Williams countless good looks at the basket.
“It was night-and-day defensively compared to the other night,” said co-captain Tim Folan ’03, who led the team with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. “Rochester played really well defensively.”
Yellowjacket Head Coach Mike Neer succeeded in crafting a game plan to stifle the prolific scoring of the Ephs, giving the start to first year guard Gabe Perez for the first time this year.
The mercurial Perez was intended to step out and challenge the Williams shooters from long range, a tack that bore fruit as the Ephs only shot 4-of-21 from three-point range.
“I don’t think we’re real quick,” Neer said. “We felt what drives [Williams] is its guards’ ability to drive and create three-pointers. That was one of the factors in starting Gabe.”
The game began as a tug-of-war affair, with Rochester holding on to a slim lead for much of the early going, but never able to establish any meaningful advantage. That balance quickly evaporated when both Williams big men, Ben Coffin ’04 and co-captain Drew DeMuth ’03, picked up their second fouls with nine minutes remaining in the first half. DeMuth, especially, was perhaps a bit careless in getting the crucial second personal, blowing a lay-up on the break, and then being called for over-the-back in attempting to grab the offensive rebound.
All around, however, something was not clicking for the Ephs, who, aside from shooting a woeful 28 percent from the floor in the first half, could only go one-of-five from the free throw line.
Williams finished zero-for-six from long-range as well, although Folan and Mike Crotty ’04 both converted two-pointers with their feet on the line. Sumant Bhat ’03 tallied four points in six minutes of action, level with Folan for the halftime scoring lead, but failed to stop the Yellowjackets on the defensive end.
Rochester finished off the opening period with a 13-2 run thanks to the timely long-range skill of junior guard Tim Sweeney, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half. Sweeney dropped a pair of three-pointers on the Ephs in the last minute of play, including the back breaker just as the first 20 minutes had expired. “They don’t shoot a ton of threes and they don’t make a ton of threes, but their threes just always seem to be backbreakers,” Paulsen said.
Down 14 at the break, the Ephs had yet to show their best stuff. Rochester made the first basket after the interval, but Williams answered right back with a 14-2 run, as Folan and Chuck Abba ’04 managed to break the three-point drought for the Ephs, and Crotty nailed a pair of tough runners in the lane. With the deficit at four and 13:00 left to play, it appeared as if the momentum had swung to the visiting side.
The Yellowjackets, unfortunately, had ideas of their own â€“ Williams would never again get closer than eight points, as Rochester went on a 9-0 run over the next 4:30 to push the game out of reach.
A Sweeney jumper as time ran out on the shot clock immediately followed a Rochester timeout, and an ensuing pair of baskets from guard Jeff Joss, including a deep three-pointer, stung the Ephs sufficiently to swing the momentum back to the home side.
The teams would exchange buckets for much of the last eight minutes, until Williams was forced to begin fouling consistently with 2:08 remaining. Rochester, however, was cool under pressure, sinking 13-of-14 free throws from that point onward, and icing the victory for its squad. “We’ve been working on free throws every day,” Joss said, “and when we’ve been shooting a lot of free throws, we’re pretty comfortable there, no matter when it is.”
Scrappy play from freshman Seth Hauben allowed him to lead the Yellowjackets with 14 points and seven boards, many coming off hustle plays on the offensive glass. Sweeney and Joss both finished with 13, while Perez added 10 in a season-high 28 minutes of action for the first-year.
After the game, Paulsen praised the backcourt play of his opponents, saying “They are a big man team, but their guards beat us tonight.” Neer was of a similar mind: “[Williams] really laid it on our big guys defensively,” he said. “Had it not been for the play of our guards, we wouldn’t have won this ballgame.
Point guard Crotty tallied eight points and six assists for Williams, but shot a disappointing zero-of-five from three-point range. Folan was two-of-five from long range, while Abba, Michael Graham ’05, Tucker Kain ’05 and Jason Farkas ’05 would combine to go 2-of-10 from that distance.
Coffin led the Ephs with 11 points to go with his nine assists, but was forced out of the game with an ankle injury in the late going.
The Yellowjackets now advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Div. III Tournament, where they will take on Babson (25-4); the site of that game has not yet been announced.
Williams’ first-round NCAA game Thursday night was against the last team to make it into the tournament, the Wildcats of Cazenovia (N.Y.) College (16-10). A number of onlookers were skeptical about the deservedness of the Wildcat squad, and the Ephs certainly gave those doubters plenty of ammunition.
The 121-49 victory for the Ephs set a new NCAA tournament record for margin of victory (72), tied the tournament record for assists in a game (34) and generally exhibited all the best qualities of this Williams team: their overwhelming defense, their unimpeachable hustle and their shooting potential. Cazenovia played without their leading scorer, guard Chuck Cassidy, who was serving a one-game automatic suspension for being ejected in his previous contest.
Folan led the Ephs with 26 poin
ts on 10-of-13 shooting, going five-of-six from long range, and heading the six Williams players who finished in double digits. There was no end to the impressive stats â€“ 14 points from Abba on five-of-six shooting, Farkas going five-of-eight and finishing with 14, and a perfect night for Graham (11 points on 100 perfect shooting, including three three-pointers) were just some of the highlights of the sparkling Ephman effort.
The Ephs more than tripled the output of Cazenovia in the second period, outscoring the Wildcats 64-20. After the lead was stretched to 40 early on in the second half, Paulsen began mass-substitutions, eventually clearing out the entire bench and allowing reserves to gain critical post-season experience. After all the substitutions, DeMuth led the Ephs with 24 minutes played.
“These guys are really hungry coming off the bench,” said Paulsen, “and it’s great for these guys to get some experience playing in a big game, to make sure we keep our depth.”
Cazenovia was led by the 12 points of Rob Sears who shot four-of-seven from three-point range.