Men’s basketball fends off UMF, 83-64

Men’s basketball (27-1) opened the 2010 NCAA Tournament with a second round 83-64 victory over University of Maine at Farmington on Saturday night. The second-ranked Ephs prevailed over the resilient Beavers in front of a boisterous, purple-decked crowd in Chandler Gymnasium to extend their winning streak to 18 games and keep alive their hopes of being national champions.

The men came with confidence and momentum after winning the NESCAC championship on Feb. 28, maintained the No. 2 ranking in the nation and claimed the top seed in their region to clinch a first-round bye. Additionally, the NESCAC conference coaches announced this week that Head Coach Mike Maker had been selected as Coach of the Year and co-captain Blake Schultz ’10 had been chosen as NESCAC Player of the Year. James Wang ’12 and Troy Whittington ’11 were also honored, named members of the First and Second All-NESCAC Teams, respectively.

The Beavers also entered the contest on a high note, having upset the team from Bridgewater State earlier in the week during first round play in their first ever NCAA appearance.

Williams came out strong right away and racked up a 19-6 lead in the first eight minutes of the game. The Beavers battled back to take a slight lead at 25-23 with just under six minutes to play, but Schultz quickly rallied the troops with a huge bucket from beyond the arc to retake the lead; the men would not trail again for the rest of the game. By the end of the half, the Ephs had extended their lead to a six-point margin and headed into the locker room with the score at 35-29.

The men struggled a little offensively in the first half, shooting 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc. Fortunately, they held strong defensively to prevent UFM from shooting any better, at just 42.3 percent.

The Beavers came into the second half with a bang, cutting the Ephs’ lead to two points, 39-37, in the first three minutes. This time it was Alex Rubin ’10 who reasserted the Williams presence, knocking down two crucial three-pointers on consecutive possessions to expand the Ephs’ lead to eight. The teams then traded buckets for the next four minutes until Whittington absolutely demoralized the UFM squad by slamming down an alley-oop on an inbound play from the baseline with just over 13 minutes to play. The massive dunk electrified the sold-out crowd and energized the entire Williams side.

Nonetheless, the Ephs couldn’t decisively put the pesky Beavers away until Rubin knocked down his fifth and final three-pointer of the game to extend the lead to 72-62 with just over two minutes to play. Williams increased its lead over the final minutes on the strength of great shooting from the free throw line to take the game by a 19-point margin, 83-64.

The Ephs’ offense improved greatly in the second half, as they shot 62 percent from the field and an incredible 67 percent from beyond the arc in a 48-point effort. The men also shot exceptionally well from the free throw line, knocking down 14 out of 15 attempts, while only giving up a paltry two attempts to the Beavers. The only disappointing aspect of the game was that the Ephs were outrebounded by a 32-25 margin by a much smaller team. Four Ephs reached double figures in the game as Schultz, Wang, Rubin and Whittington nabbed 23, 22, 21 and 10 points, respectively. The four also combined for nine rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and seven steals.

“If we had a mantra it would be that the next game is always a big game,” said Ethan Timmins-Schiffman ’10 when asked about the team’s post-season attitude. “In other words, Friday’s game is a big game simply because it’s our next one. That same mantra applies to every game we play and keeps us focused and in the moment.”

Schultz echoed his teammate’s excitement about the weekend’s game. “I think that it is really great to continue be able to play at home,” he said. “The energy and passion the fans showed this weekend was by far the best I have seen in the four years I have been here. It was an awesome environment to play in and we all hope to get the same support in the last home weekend.”

The Ephs will host sectionals this upcoming weekend as the men face off against the team from SUNY-IT on Friday at 8 p.m. Rhode Island College and Brandeis will play at 6 p.m. the same night, and the winners of the two games will compete at 7 p.m. on Saturday for a ticket to the Final Four in Salem, VA. Semifinals will be played on March 19.