Men’s basketball advances

Victory over Bates (13-12, 4-5 in the NESCAC) on Saturday didn’t come as easily as it did when Williams took down the Bobcats earlier in the season, but good execution eventually carried the Ephs to an 87-78 win in the first round of the conference tournament. With the win, men’s basketball (17-8, 6-3) advances to face Amherst (20-5, 7-2) in the semifinals on Saturday at Middlebury. The winner of that game will play for the championship on Sunday.

With seven ties and five lead changes, the first half proved to be a battle. It wasn’t until the final minutes of the period that Williams really hit stride. Capping an 8-0 Williams run, Blake Schultz ’10 drilled a three-pointer with just over a minute left in the period. The eight unanswered points erased a five-point Bates lead and sent Williams into the break leading 35-32.

“To go on a little run like that and take the lead and the momentum going into halftime is huge,” co-captain Kevin Snyder ’09 said. “That showed resolve on our part and gave us a nice lift in closing out the half.”  

The Ephs upped the ante in the second half, sinking 56 percent of their shots from the floor over the last 20 minutes. But a physical Bates squad kept pace for virtually the entire period, demonstrating that they were indeed capable of avenging their 76-61 loss to the Ephs in mid-January. Until over halfway through the period, Williams had difficulty in extending its lead beyond seven.

The men got their first double-digit lead of the game when Harlan Dodson ’11 (five points, three blocks) drilled a trey from the corner. Then, James Wang ’12 found Snyder, who sank his lay-up and drew a foul. Wang capped a 10-2 run under a minute later, sinking a free throw at the 7:22 mark to give Williams its biggest lead of the night, 66-52. The first-year from Australia finished with 12 points, while Snyder notched 14 and a game-high five assists.

But right when it looked as if the Ephs might run away with it, the Bobcats came clawing back. Over the next five minutes, Williams saw its 14-point lead shrink to three as Bates made a long, sustained effort to reclaim the lead. With 1:48 to go, Marshall Hatch drained a three to make it a 76-73 game.

Responding quickly, Schultz drove the left lane and muscled in a lay-up to buy the Ephs some breathing room. Troy Whittington ’11 then stepped up on defense, successfully guarding the post on Bates’ ensuing possession and bringing down the rebound. Whittington followed by drawing a foul and draining both free throws with under a minute left. Finishing with eight points and four assists, Whittington also had seven rebounds in just 23 minutes of play.

“James and Troy were awesome for us off the bench,” Snyder said. “Their energy was a huge boost, and they are both so athletic and naturally gifted that they are able to affect the game in ways that not many other players are able to do. It adds another dimension to our team that makes us tougher to guard and harder to score on.”

Trailing 80-73 with under a minute left, Bates was forced to foul, only to see the men drain seven of their eight final free throws to ice the victory.

Schultz had a monster performance, finishing with a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds. Alex Rubin ’10 was the second Eph to score in the double-digits. The junior came off the bench to hit 6-of-7 shots from the floor and all six of his free throws for 20 points. “Alex Rubin shot the ball phenomenally,” co-captain Mike Kearney ’09 said. “Beyond his 20 points though, his presence spreads out the defense and opens up lanes for everyone else.”

The win not only advances the men to the semifinals this weekend, but helps ease the memory of Williams’ 37-point loss to Middlebury in last year’s NESCAC quarterfinal game. This year’s victory over Bates also caps a successful home season for the Ephs.

“It was a great feeling to walk out of Chandler for the last time with a W,” Kearney said.

Now the third seed men must turn their attention to No. 2 Amherst, an opponent they’ve faced twice, and beaten once, this year.

“The Amherst game is going to be really exciting, and I know we’ll be going into it with a ton of energy,” Snyder said. “But most importantly I want us to enjoy the game. It’s not often that you get to play a very evenly matched rivalry game in such an incredible atmosphere.”