Men’s hoops stumbles in NESCAC finals

Men’s basketball took to the court again this weekend against Trinity and Middlebury in the NESCAC tournament. The men fell to Middlebury in the championship game on Sunday after defeating Trinity 79-69 in the semifinals on Saturday.

After Middlebury dropped Amherst on Friday, Sunday’s title game pitted top-ranked Williams against second-seed Middlebury, creating a matchup between two teams with near-perfect records. The Ephs and Panthers sought to settle the championship in a rematch of the Jan. 29 game that saw the Ephs down the Panthers 69-64.

Middlebury scored first, but the men swiftly cut into the Panthers’ advantage with an impressive scoring run: Tri-captain James Wang ’12 sunk a three-pointer and Brian Emerson ’12 followed with a jumper for two. Tri-captain Troy Whittington ’11 then sunk two free throws, and Taylor Epley ’14 capped off the run with a lay-up. The Ephs then proceeded to steal the lead after Wang sunk another three-pointer, taking a 22-20 advantage with 5:14 minutes of play left in the half. Despite the Panthers’ attempt to regain the lead, a lay-up by Michael Mayer ’14 pushed the Ephs’ lead to 24-22. The two teams continued to volley for the ball until Middlebury finally seized and maintained the lead with 3:25 left in the half. Although the first half saw many exceptional performances from the Ephs, the Panthers walked away with a 32-27 lead heading into the locker room.

The Panthers came out strong in the second half, but the Ephs continued to fight back, repeatedly cutting into the Panther lead. James Klemm ’13 aided the Ephs with two three-pointers, while tri-captain Harlan Dodson ’11 hit another three-pointer off an offensive rebound from Whittington. Hayden Rooke-Ley ’14 added two free throws to the Ephs’ offensive attack, shaving the Panthers’ lead to two. Whittington gave the Ephs some momentum with a one-handed hoop, but the Panthers responded, pushing past Rooke-Ley’s attempt to keep the lead at two. Middlebury managed to gain a nine-point lead at 53-44.

“We knew that when they made their big run, we were going to make our big run,” Wang said. “When they had their nine-point lead, we were set to make a run, but we ran out of time.”

After calling its fourth timeout of the game, Williams fought valiantly with a jumper from Wang, two free throw tallies from Epley and a show-stopping dunk and two free throws by Whittington. Nevertheless, Middlebury came out on top, converting six free throws in the last 43 seconds to take the game and the NESCAC title by a final score of 63-54.

“We were down five with about 40 seconds to go,” Wang said. “I think if we had an extra minute, it could’ve been a different result.”
Wang and Whittington both recorded double-digit point totals, with Wang tallying 12 points and Whittington collecting 13. The Panthers, one of the top defensive teams in the NESCAC, held the Ephs to 31.5 percent field goal shooting. The men permitted Middlebury to shoot 40.4 percent. The men out-rebounded Middlebury, collecting 39 rebounds to the Panthers’ 33.

“We out-rebounded them, and we defended well. We just couldn’t get the ball in the basket,” Wang said.

Notably missing on Sunday was point guard Nate Robertson ’13, who was unavailable due to a sprained ankle acquired during the Trinity game. “[Nate’s absence] was huge,” Wang said. “It changed our rotation. It changed the lineup we played. With Nate out there he relieves a lot of pressure.”

On Saturday, Williams and Trinity faced off in a game that was tight from tip-off. The Ephs got off to a good start with a jumper by Whittington and a three-pointer by Dodson. They quickly gained momentum, but Trinity followed close behind, tying the game at 13-13 five minutes in. The Ephs and Bantams continued to wrestle for the lead until Robertson converted two free throws to give the Ephs a six-point lead. Whittington, Wang and Emerson then hit two free throws apiece. Robertson was forced to leave the game after injury in a hard foul. Williams kept its momentum, however: Wang hit a three-pointer and pushed the team’s lead to six before hitting the locker rooms with the score at 42-36.

The second half saw great defense as both Dodson and Whittington blocked Bantam shots on the opening possession. Wang took charge and pushed the lead to 50-45 midway through the half, and Whittington hit two free throws before the men called their second timeout of the half.

After the timeout Whittington took his game to another level, proving unstoppable as he recorded nine points in under two minutes. The men picked up on Whittington’s momentum, controlling the ball until the end of the game. With baskets by Emerson, Wang and Rooke-Ley, the men ended the game with a 79-69 victory.

Despite the loss to Middlebury, Williams will still compete in NCAAs courtesy of an at-large bid into the tournament, which begins this week. The men will host the first round of competition and face Husson on Friday. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. Becker will take on Scranton at Williams on Friday at 5:30 p.m. The winners of these games will face each other on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The men will take their experiences in the NESCAC playoffs into the NCAA tournament. “We’ll be resilient and cool when performing under pressure,” Wang said. “In games like [this weekend’s] that have a lot of pressure, it can only do us good because we have a lot of young guys, and the more experience they have in games and situations like this, the better it will be for us [in the future].”