Kevin Snyder ’09 was in elementary school the last time men’s basketball won the Little Three title outright. But on Friday, the co-captain scored 30 points to propel Williams (16-8, 6-3 in the NESCAC) past Amherst (7-2, 19-5), 89-78, en route to the team’s first Little Three crown in 13 years. The men lost steam the next day, however, as they fell to Trinity (4-5, 9-14), 83-73, in the final game of the regular season.
Even with the loss to Trinity, Williams secured the third seed in the upcoming NESCAC tournament and the right to host the first game against Bates (13-11, 4-5) this weekend. Earlier this season the Ephs beat the Bobcats 76-61.
On Saturday, the Ephs held a decisive advantage over the Bantams in shooting percentage, connecting on 45.5 percent of their shots compared to Trinity’s uninspired 38 percent. But the Bantams took advantage of 20 Eph turnovers to create opportunities, surrendering the ball just 11 times themselves. Trinity also spread out the scoring responsibilities, with five players finishing in double digits.
The Ephs were also hindered by second-half foul trouble, as the Bantams picked up 29 points from the free throw line in the period, although a number of those points came late in the game when Williams was forced to foul. In comparison, the men picked up just 11 points from free throws over the course of the entire game.
“We did not have the same energy on Saturday after such an emotional game on Friday,” co-captain Mike Kearney ’09 said. “It goes to show that no game is a guaranteed win in the NESCAC. We were out of rhythm offensively. But the game was decided on the defensive end. We were slow on our rotations and generally lacked the intensity we needed to win.”
Blake Schultz ’10, who has paced the Ephs throughout the regular season with an average of 18 points per game, chipped in another 18 on Saturday, though he was hampered by fouling trouble throughout the game. Harlan Dodson ’11 and Snyder netted 14 and 13 points, respectively, with Dodson going 4-for-7 behind the three-point arc.
The Ephs encountered none of the same problems the night before in their upset of the Jeffs on Amherst’s home court. For instance, while Amherst collected just eight points from the charity stripe, Williams scored 30 points on free throws.
In the first half it was still anyone’s game, but Williams started to take the momentum toward the end of the period. With under three minutes left in the half, the Ephs orchestrated a 6-0 run to take the lead by one. They then improved on it slightly to go into the break leading 40-35.
Snyder set the tone early in the second, a half that would belong to Williams. The senior scored seven of the Ephs’ first nine points of the period to put his team up 49-41.
“I just wanted to be really aggressive offensively and try to put pressure on their defense,” Snyder said of his standout performance. “We expected them to really try to take Blake away, so I just tried to attack the basket and get to the rim and put them on their heels. Their weak side defenders were really sticking with who they were guarding, so it opened up the lane for me.”
In addition to Snyder, the bench came up big for Williams, especially in the second half. James Wang ’12 caught fire in the second, scoring 15 of his total 19 points after the break. Alex Rubin ’10 and Troy Whittington ’11 also came off the bench to log significant minutes and post big numbers. Whittington was one point shy of a double-double, scoring nine points and bringing down a team-high 10 rebounds, while Rubin added 10 points himself.
After going up by eight points in the first three minutes of the second half, Williams only widened the gap over the next 11 minutes. Halfway through the period, Whittington gave the Ephs a 60-47 lead on a lay-up, forcing Amherst to take a timeout. The break didn’t help slow the Williams deluge, however. Wang was in on almost every play during the ensuing minutes, picking up several assists and four points, including a spectacular reverse lay-up over a sliding Amherst defender to cap an 11-0 run and give Williams a commanding 19-point lead.
The Jeffs tried to pick up the pieces of a game gone horribly wrong on their home court, but the Ephs refused to let their rivals back in, and they never led by fewer than 10 points for the remainder of the game. Williams continued to drain free throws (as well as Amherst’s hopes for a comeback) as the Jeffs attempted to foul their way back into the game. Williams held on easily to come away with an 89-78 victory and its first outright Little Three title since the 1995-96 season.
Tipoff for this Saturday’s tournament game against Bates is set for 3 p.m. With a victory, Williams would take on the winner of the game between second seed Amherst and seventh seed Trinity.
“We can learn a lot from this weekend,” Kearney said. “We know that when we play unselfish and impassioned basketball, we can beat anyone. From here on out, it’s win or go home, so we have to bring that type of mentality every day.”