No. 10 men’s basketball (22-3, 9-1 in the NESCAC) stormed to the NESCAC semifinals last weekend with an 88-79 victory over Bates in the conference quarterfinal. Entering the NESCAC tournament as the No. 2 seed, the men earned rights to host last Saturday’s quarterfinal and this Saturday’s semifinal.
The men opened the first half strong: After trading baskets with Bates in the initial minutes, a long ball from co-captain James Klemm ’13 gave the men a 10-5 lead with 17:28 to play. A jumper from Taylor Epley ’14 and a layup from co-captain Nate Robertson ’13 enabled the Ephs to open a 14-7 lead with 15:35 on the clock.
The Bobcats then fired back with a pair of baskets from behind the arc, but Robertson re-buried them with a layup to keep an 18-13 advantage. Head Coach Mike Maker put his subs in the game, which allowed Bates to close some of the distance, but a pair of free throws from Sean Hoffmann ’13 and a field goal from John Weinheimer ’14 let the men maintain a 22-17 lead about halfway through the first.
With about seven to play, the Bobcats made it a game, pulling within three until Robertson buried a shot from behind the arc to claim a 31-25 lead. The men answered Bates’ scores until the end of the half, heading into the break with a 38-33 edge.
The second half started slowly for the Ephs: The Bobcats pulled within three after sinking two shots at the line and a jumper, but this was the closest they would get for the remainder of the game. Epley stepped up and singlehandedly restored the Ephs’ lead. The junior scored 10 straight points, lighting up the scoreboard and establishing a 50-37 advantage for the men.
“[Epley] really helped spark our run in the second half when we were able to build a more comfortable lead,” Robertson said. “We knew he would be really effective if we got him the ball in the interior, and he was able to string together plays to start the run. Also, [Epley] had a great defensive game, as Bates has some quick and talented guards who we knew we would have to keep in front of to contain their offense.”
Klemm got in on the action with a three to cap Epley’s run and give the Ephs a 53-37 margin with under 15 to play. Play continued quietly in the half, with the men maintaining their lead by answering Bates’ shots and collecting easy points from the line. Michael Mayer ’14 gave the men one of their biggest leads of the half at 74-57 with a pair of free throws at 3:42. The Bobcats clawed back, eventually pulling to 76-66 on a three with under three to play. Klemm responded with a layup assisted by Epley, and free throws from Robertson and another Klemm layup reestablished the Ephs’ lead at 82-70.
In the final minutes, the Bobcats were forced to foul, but the Ephs’ advantage proved too much. The men ended the game with an 88-79 victory to advance to the semifinals this Saturday.
Klemm scored a team-high 20 points, while grabbing four boards. Robertson scored 19, while Epley had 17. Mayer had a double-double, scoring 14 points and snaring 10 rebounds. The men shot 56.9 percent from the field, while holding Bates to 44.8-percent shooting.
“It’s always great when multiple guys are contributing offensively,” Robertson said. “We are most effective when we can get out in transition to get easy buckets and having Klemm back as our most efficient three-point threat and Mayer, who can score with his back to the basket and get out and run to get easy ones, really opens up what we can do.”
With the victory, the Ephs advance to the semifinals in the NESCAC tournament. The men will next travel to Amherst to face Middlebury, the No. 3 seed, on Saturday. Middlebury pulled out a 61-49 win over Wesleyan in its quarterfinal to advance. The men came out on top of Middlebury in their game on Jan. 26, stealing a narrow 64-63 win after trailing almost the entire second half. Tipoff in the semifinal will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Amherst, following the other semifinal matchup featuring No. 4 Tufts and No. 1 Amherst.
“Middlebury has always been a tough opponent and after the game against them earlier this year, we know this weekend will be no exception,” Robertson said. “At this point in the season, all aspects of the game have to be executed, and we’re preparing this week so we are ready to face a team who we know is doing the same.”