Scorching offense spurs men’s basketball to early 5-1 record

After securing a 10-point halftime lead, men’s basketball (5-1) suffered a frustrating 75-69 defeat to Stevens on Saturday. Prior to the loss, the team had reeled off five straight victories: The men trounced RPI 105-60 on Nov. 27 and topped MCLA 102-78 on Nov. 25. On Nov. 20, the men defeated Wesleyan 56-48 in a tight defensive showdown. The team opened its season with a pair of victories over Southern Vermont and Salem State at the Williams Tip-off Tournament on Nov. 16 and 17.

On Saturday, Stevens handed Williams its first loss. Stevens scored the first four points, but a jumper from behind the arc by Taylor Epley ’14 made it clear that the men would charge back. After a layup from Michael Mayer ’14, Epley drained another three to give the Ephs an 8-6 lead. The men lived by the long ball in the first half, eventually establishing a 26-19 lead after threes from Epley and Ryan Kilcullen ’15 with eight to play. Three minutes later, John Weinheimer ’14 stole the ball and made a layup on the ensuing breakaway to give the Ephs a 31-23 advantage. The men widened their lead on the strength of a three from co-captain Nate Robertson ’13 and to lead 40-30 at the half.

Returning from the break, the Ducks came on strong to chip away at the Ephs’ advantage. After trading the first three shots, the Ducks went on a 10-0 run to tighten the game 44-43. Both teams struggled to convert opportunities out of the gate in the second, but Stevens applied pressure to keep the game close. Epley and Robertson reestablished the men’s lead from the line, giving the Ephs a 49-43 lead with 14 to play, but the Ducks weren’t finished.

Stevens capitalized on its next few possessions, grabbing a 59-57 lead after Patrick Sabatino sank his pair of free throws. After a Duck three, Weinheimer responded with a shot from behind the arc, leaving the Ducks with a narrow two-point lead. With Stevens leading 70-64 with less than a minute to go, Parker McClelland ’13 drained a long ball to pull Williams within three points. The men were forced to foul, however, and Stevens ultimately claimed a 75-69 victory.

“We’re obviously disappointed, but we give a lot of credit to Stevens for taking us out of our game plan and sticking to their game plan really well,” co-captain James Klemm ’13 said. Moving forward, the men will work on sharpening their defense to get back on track. “The past few games we had been feeling really good about our defense, but [Saturday] night was probably our worst defensive game of the season,” Klemm said. “We’re going to work on knowing our defensive assignments better and take out easy layups.”

The men started their game against RPI on Nov. 27 emphatically: The Ephs went on a 10-0 run before the Red Hawks finally scored two minutes into the game. Klemm and Epley each netted a three in the run. The men never looked back, as Epley scored six straight points, punctuated by a dunk after Robertson stole the ball from RPI four minutes in. The Ephs built a massive first-half lead that Daniel Wohl ’15 expanded to 63-26 with a layup with two minutes to play in the half. They entered the break with a 67-32 advantage.

RPI showed a bit of life in the second half, as Klemm and Red Hawk Brendan Farley traded a pair of threes. However, Epley and Mayer ended RPI’s hope of a comeback and reopened the men’s lead to 81-40 with 16 to play before Sean Hoffmann ’13 banked another two points with a dunk. The men made their shots for the rest of the game, eventually winning by a score of 105-60 and notching their second straight 100-point game.

“Our offense works when we share the ball and finish cuts,” Klemm said. “We trust our teammates to get each other shots, and that has worked well for us.”

The Ephs established 58 percent field goal shooting, compared to the Red Hawks’ 25.9 percent. Epley led the men with 26 points, and Mayer grabbed 13 boards and banked 12 points. Klemm was four for five behind the arc with 14 points in 19 minutes.

MCLA proved a more challenging opponent on Nov. 25, with the men playing catch-up in the opening minutes of the half after MCLA opened a 12-6 lead less than five minutes in. The Ephs steadily chipped away at the Trailblazers’ lead, eventually ending the first with a narrow 38-37 lead courtesy of a pair of free throws from Klemm with eight seconds remaining in the half.

The men got to work in the second half, opening play after the break with an 11-4 run. Mayer and Klemm both netted threes in the effort. After a Trailblazer layup five minutes in, the Ephs scored the next nine points to establish a sizeable 58-43 lead, which buried the Trailblazers for the remainder of the game. The men finished the night with a 102-78 win.

Mayer had a huge game with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Robertson gave a well-rounded effort with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Weinheimer had an impressive 17 points off the bench.

The men played a tight battle with Wesleyan on Nov. 20 that ended with a 56-48 Williams victory. In the men’s opening tip-off tournament, they dispatched Salem State 91-61 on Nov. 17 and turned Southern Vermont away with an 81-51 victory on Nov. 16.

The men played Curry on Tuesday, but results came in too late to report. They will host Castleton tonight at 7:30 p.m. before facing Springfield at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The team will then get an extended break before returning to play on Dec. 29 against Luther at California Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, Calif.