Men’s basketball storms to Sweet Sixteen

Men’s basketball (25-2, 9-0 in the NESCAC) defeated Becker (24-5) on Saturday by a score of 84-63 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament. The men started the tournament strong on Friday, surviving a thrilling overtime victory over Husson in the opening game of NCAA Championships.

After falling behind early, tri-captain James Wang ’12 led a surge for the men midway through the first half against Becker. Despite three early misses by James Klemm ’13, Wang continued to look for him beyond the arc. Klemm quickly buried three straight three-point attempts, giving the Ephs an 18-13 lead. Klemm finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds, while Wang tied for the team high with 20 points.

Toward the end of the half, the Ephs found their rhythm and were able to spread the floor and drive to the basket. Wang drove hard to the net with three minutes left in the half to score with a shot from under the rim. Tri-captain Troy Whittington ’11 silenced the opposition on the defensive end, finishing the game with five blocks and a steal. Wang’s drive and Whittington’s block allowed the Ephs to establish a 29-19 lead over the Hawks in the waning minutes of the first half.

The Ephs were prepared for a second-half comeback attempt by the Hawks. Early in the second, Klemm dove for the ball in a play that ended in a jump ball to earn a possession for the men. Center Brian Emerson ’12 continued the trend, diving for the ball with 16:58 left in the second half to earn another jump ball.

After four quick points by Becker, Head Coach Mike Maker called a timeout with 14:22 left in the half. The Ephs were able to move the ball around well coming out of the timeout, and Hayden Rooke-Ley ’14 drilled a three-pointer from the corner. Rooke-Ley had the hot hand going forward, sinking another three from the corner in the next possession. He finished the game with 20 points; the rookie made four of his six three-point attempts and contributed four rebounds. “Hayden’s a talented first-year player,” Maker said. The coach was also quick to point out Rooke-Ley’s “savvy and toughness” as key attributes in his game.

The Ephs distanced themselves from the Hawks in the second half as Whittington turned in a dominant defensive performance. Whittington’s defense was on display with 8:50 left in the second half, as he refused three straight shot attempts by the Hawks, helping the men limit their opponent to a 32.4 field goal percentage. The senior finished the game with six points, eight rebounds and five blocks. “Troy’s presence in the interior allows us to be much more aggressive around the perimeter,” Maker said.

The Hawks maintained pressure on the ball to the finish, but a deep three-pointer by Wang extended the lead to an insurmountable 82-63 with just one minute left. The men were able to tack on two more points before the end of the game, taking home an 84-63 victory.

Williams faced a tough opponent in Husson in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday. Although the Eagles fought hard, the Ephs were able to overcome their first round opponent in an 86-83 overtime win.

The men were down 16-4 with 11:43 left in the first half when Maker called a timeout. Following the timeout, the Ephs began to chip away at the Eagles’ lead. Whittington found Taylor Epley ’14 on a cut for an open lay-up, which cut Husson’s lead to four. Wang and Whittington then combined on an alley-oop off an inbound pass that brought the score to 22-20. The men had recovered from their early deficit by halftime and headed to the locker rooms with a 37-34 lead.

Husson came out firing in the second half, scoring three points in its first possession and tying the game. Whittington responded to the Eagles’ momentum, faking a pass to Wang before pivoting and dunking the ball. Whittington finished with 11 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots.

With less than a minute left on the clock, Klemm drove to the basket and drew contact on a critical three-point play. After a desperation shot by Husson missed at the end of regulation, the game went into overtime tied at 76-76.
After suffering an injury against Trinity on Feb. 26, Nate Robertson ’13 returned in the Husson game and was instrumental in the overtime period. Robertson played 12 minutes and contributed three points, three rebounds and two steals.

“Nate’s the most underrated player on the team,” Maker said. “We’re not the same without him. He’s a wonderful defender and he has poise as well as a high basketball IQ.”

The Ephs were able to capitalize on the Eagles’ turnovers in extra time, maintaining possession of the ball and dictating the tempo of the game. Following an Eagle turnover, Wang was fouled and subsequently hit two free throws to put the Ephs up 86-83. The game ended with another desperation shot by Husson, but the ball refused to fall and the men took home the overtime win.

In addition to their victories this weekend, the Ephs took home several conference honors. Whittington was named NESCAC Player of the Year this weekend for his performance in his senior season, and Wang was named to the First-Team All-NESCAC. “Troy and James are two of the better players in the country,” said Maker. “It’s a much easier game for us to play when they’re on the court.”
Williams will host Virginia Wesleyan in the Sweet Sixteen round of NCAA play on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far,” Maker said, “and I hope we continue playing … to the best of our ability.”

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