Men’s hoops seals 1st in NESCAC, Little 3 title

Men’s basketball (23-1, 9-0 in the NESCAC) finished the regular season on the road last weekend, extending its winning streak to 14 games with two wins over Amherst and Trinity. Williams dominated Amherst on Friday night 81-60; the Ephs clinched the NESCAC regular season title and their first back-to-back outright Little Three titles since the 1995 and 1996 seasons. The men then traveled to Hartford on Saturday and defeated Trinity 83-66.

The Ephs came onto the court on Saturday fired up from the victory over Amherst and ready to play. However, Trinity provided a challenge for much of the first half, and the men headed into the locker room at the half with only a five-point 40-35 lead. The Ephs managed to shoot 57.1 percent from the field in the half but gave up an unusually high number of points from beyond the arc, as the Bantams managed to knock down seven three-pointers in 13 attempts.

The second half was a different story, as the Ephs dominated on both sides of the ball. The men had opened their lead to 12 points less than four minutes into the half, up 54-42, and did not look back. The team did not lead by fewer than 10 for the remainder of the game. In the second half, the Ephs posted incredible offensive numbers, shooting 65 percent from the field and an astonishing 78 percent from beyond the arc. Just as impressive, they held the Bantams to a mere 32 percent from the field.

Three Ephs scored in double figures, with co-captain Blake Schultz ’10 leading the way with 27 points, James Wang ’12 netting 19 and Alex Rubin ’10 adding 14. The team held a 29-26 advantage over Trinity in rebounds and also displayed their passing prowess by recording 21 assists on 27 field goals.

The matchup the previous night against archrival Amherst was much of the same story despite the pressure of the crucial game. On top of the normal pressure of the teams’ rivalry, the Ephs knew that with a victory over the Jeffs they would clinch both the Little Three title and also the top seed in the conference championship, which would give the team the right to host the NESCAC tournament.

Early on, it seemed that the Ephs might be outdone for the first time in conference play this season. Williams was behind by as many as seven points during the course of the half and did not lead until Will Hardy ’10 tipped in a missed free throw attempt as time expired to send his team into the locker room with a two-point 39-37 lead. The team had been offensively potent in the first half, shooting 63 percent from the field, but could not find a way to shut its opponent down, allowing Amherst to shoot 57 percent from the field.

The second half proved to be a different story for the Ephs. After a few strategic adjustments, the men were able to keep firing away on offense while completely shutting down Amherst on the defensive end. The Ephs opened up a 12-point lead only four minutes into the half and did not lead by fewer than nine the rest of the contest. The team led by as many as 29 before the game ended in the 21-point 81-60 victory.

The team showed its full potential in the second half of the game, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field while holding Amherst to a mere 31 percent. The Ephs also shot 85 percent from the free-throw line. Schultz and co-captain Joe Geoghegan ’10 displayed their leadership as they spearheaded the team’s offensive efforts with 19 and 17 points, respectively. Wang also pitched in with an impressive 18 points, all scored in the lane, while Troy Whittington ’11 recorded nine points, three blocks and two steals in a very solid all-around performance.

Schultz leads the team with an average of 19.3 points per game, while Wang is right behind him with an average of 16.2 poitns per game. Whittington rounds out the Ephs averaging in double digits with 11.1 points per game. Schultz and Wang especially have stepped up their play to help the Ephs dominate conference competition, with Schultz topping the in-conference points per game statistics with an average of 20.9 points per game and also netting 60.9 percent of his three-point attempts, while Wang leads the NESCAC in free throw percentage, knocking down 95.8 percent of his attempts.

Geoghegan leads the Ephs in rebounding, with 8.2 per game on the season thus far, putting him at third on the NESCAC rebound statistics. Whittington is tops the NESCAC standings for field goal percentage for the season: The Eph has made 71.7 percent of his field goal attempts on the year.

Williams’ success is definitely a team effort inside and outside the NESCAC. The men top the nation in win percentage, field goal percentage, and three-point field goal percentage, with 95.8 percent, 52.9 percent, and 46.3 percent, respectively. They also stand sixth in the country with 87 points per game.

The team is excited and optimistic about its prospects as they look to capitalize on its stellar year thus far in postseason competition. “This is the first time that anyone in the current men’s basketball program has been a part of a team that is hosting the NESCAC tournament,” Schultz said. “We are very excited for the opportunity.”

Williams’ confidence is justified: This year’s team, with its 23-1 record, is on track to match the best men’s basketball performances in recent College history. Both the ’02-’03 national championship Eph team and the national runners-up of the next year went 23-1 in their respective seasons.
“We are very aware of the level of talent that this team has, and we are committed to continue to improve and take nothing for granted in order to seize the opportunities before us,” Schultz added.

One of the reasons this year’s men have done so well, however, is because they refuse to let their success make them complacent. Schultz made it extremely clear that the team’s ranking is not significant to the men: They will continue to focus on each individual game in order to continue the incredible success of this season.

Williams will take the week to get ready to take on eighth-seeded Wesleyan in the opening round of the conference tournament on Saturday in Chandler Gymnasium at 4 p.m. The Ephs have already dropped the Cardinals twice during the regular season. On Nov. 24, the men defended their home court against Wesleyan, winning 106-91. The Ephs legitimized the result when they took down the Cardinals 79-63 at Wesleyan on Jan. 22.
The result of this weekend’s game determines if Williams will host the remainder of the NESCAC tournament in Chandler Gymnasium.

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