Men’s basketball (24-1) proved to be too much for eighth-seeded Little Three rival Wesleyan in the opening round of the NESCAC tournament on Saturday. Williams advanced to the semifinals with a 77-62 win at home. The Ephs, who came into the contest as the top seed in the conference championship and ranked No. 2 in the nation, did not disappoint a boisterous home crowd as they captured their 15th straight victory.
The men struggled in the first few minutes of the game, missing their first six shots from the field and not recording a single point until Harlan Dodson ’11 managed to tip in a missed shot nearly four minutes into the game. With the menacing goose egg off the scoreboard, the Ephs settled down and began to produce more effective offense while keeping the Cardinals under control on defense. The game was very tight for most of the first half, with the lead changing hands frequently until the final minute and a half, when Dodson managed to build a little momentum for the Ephs and knock down two straight three-pointers to give his team a boost. Williams headed into the locker room at the half with a 35-31 lead.
The Ephs shot 46 percent from the field in the first half, an unusually low tally for the normally prolific offense, but made up for it on the defensive end by holding the Cardinals to a mere 38 percent shooting. Perhaps the highlight for the team was that the men came up huge from the free throw line in a half riddled with fouls, making 12 of 14 attempts for 86 percent free throw shooting.
After getting off to a sluggish start to the second 20 minutes and giving up five points quickly to Wesleyan, James Wang ’12 rallied the team and led an offensive charge that culminated with a game-changing dunk from Troy Whittington ’11 to give the Ephs a 12-point lead at 50-38 with just over 12 minutes to play in the half. Throughout this stretch, Wang’s quickness and skillful passing shredded the Cardinals’ defense and opened up the game for the Ephs, as he scored or assisted on 13 of the team’s 15 points during the run. Over the next five minutes, the Williams offense continued to pour in buckets, acquiring a virtually insurmountable 67-46 lead with only seven minutes left in the game. The Cardinals fought hard for the remainder of the contest, but the Ephs held their lead and eventually took the contest by the 15-point final margin.
The team was fairly consistent defensively on the night, holding Wesleyan to 31 points in each half and only 40 percent shooting for the game. However, the team’s offensive efforts in the second half proved to be the deciding factor in the game, as the Ephs managed an impressive and much more characteristic 59 percent from the field, knocking down 13 baskets in only 22 tries. The Ephs also dominated the boards all night, nabbing 32 rebounds to the Cardinals’ 24.
Wang spearheaded the victory, notching a career-high tally of 30 points, including five baskets from beyond the arc. Co-captain Blake Schultz ’10 and Dodson also made it into double figures for the night, recording 13 and 11 points, respectively. Co-captain Joe Geoghegan ’10 and Whittington made their presence felt around the basket, combining for ten points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.
“The most important thing now is not being content,” Geoghegan said, reflecting on the team’s desire to stay focused for each and every game this postseason. “We have had a great regular season, but our goals extend far beyond that, so we need to keep improving every day and value every chance we get to step on the court.”
“It will be very special to our large senior class to host the NESCAC this weekend,” Geoghegan added. “[Hosting the tournament] has been something I have looked forward to since I played in my first NESCAC championship at Amherst as a freshman.”
The Ephs return to the court next weekend to host the final rounds of the NESCAC championship. On Saturday afternoon, the men will face fourth-seeded Bates, who knocked off Bowdoin this weekend by a score of 80-64. The Ephs and the Bobcats will go head-to-head on Saturday at 2 p.m. Middlebury and Colby will face off at 4 p.m., and both games will be played in Chandler Gymnasium. The winners of their respective contests will meet on Sunday at noon in Chandler for the NESCAC championship.