On Saturday, men’s basketball (24-4, 9-1 in the NESCAC) snuck past Wesley in the first round of the Div. III NCAA tournament. Hosting the Wolverines in Chandler Gymnasium, the Ephs rode a clutch three from Taylor Epley ’14 to a 79-78 victory, narrowly surviving a Wolverine long ball in the last second of the game.
Wesley started the game off hot, controlling the ball and capitalizing on the men’s turnovers in the early minutes. The Wolverines jumped out to a 13-4 lead at 14:24 and eventually pushed to a 22-10 lead halfway through the first while the Ephs struggled to make their shots. The men quickly closed the distance, however, led by Daniel Wohl ’15 who scored their first field goal in over 2:30. Epley followed his shot up with a three with 8:26 to play. Wohl hit another three 20 seconds later, and with some solid shooting from the line by Michael Mayer ’14 and Epley, the men pulled into a 22-22 tie with 5:31 on the clock. With time expiring in the first, Mayer slammed a classic dunk after a tidy assist from co-captain Nate Robertson ’13, making the score 29-28 with less than a minute to go. After a Wolverine layup, Epley went one for two at the line, and the Ephs went to the half down two at 31-29.
“We talked at halftime about how we were playing tight and as if not to lose instead of enjoying ourselves and playing freely,” Robertson said. “We didn’t focus on making any tactical changes but just acknowledged that we had a half to get out the jitters and to focus on playing the way we knew we’re able to.”
Both teams had worse shooting percentages in the first half than in the second half. The Ephs shot at 37.5 percent, and the Wolverines shot at 38.7 percent. In the second half, the men shot 51.9 percent while Wesley improved to 58.1 percent.
Co-captain James Klemm ’13 made a statement to open the half, snaring the lead with a three in the first 30 ticks of the half. The Wolverines kept the Ephs on their toes, but John Weinheimer ’14 and Mayer hit the boards hard, making sure the Ephs got their fair number of looks at the basket. The men lived and died by the three, attempting 14 threes in the second and connecting on seven of them.
The game got tight about midway through the second half. Wesley established a 10-point lead with 11:20 to play that the men steadily hacked into. Robertson hit a three and a pair of free throws, while Wohl contributed a layup. A longball from Klemm topped this sequence off to put the men down just 58-56 with 9:25 on the clock. The men made their shots at the line and finally grabbed the lead when Mayer snared an offensive rebound and dunked the ball to push his team to a 62-61 lead. Wesley stole the lead again off shots at the line, but Klemm notched a three with 4:30 left to give the men a slim 67-66 advantage.
With a minute to play, the Ephs were up by just two points when Epley got a good look at the basket. The junior swished a three to give the men a crucial five-point lead. “His last three was really big for us and allowed us to control the game and play with a slightly more extended lead in the final minutes,” Robertson said.
Wesley responded with a layup, but the Wolverines were forced to foul twice. Robertson and Mayer both made their free throws, and the men held a critical four-point lead with just 13 seconds on the clock. Wesley did all they could, netting a three with one second left to put the win within one point, but the edge Epley gave Williams proved to be indestructible. The Ephs walked away with a 79-78 home win.
“We love playing at home,” Robertson said. “The crowd was great in our game against Wesley and being able to feed off their energy is an advantage we feel lucky to have.”
With the victory, the men eliminated Wesley from the tournament. The Ephs will advance to the second round of the Div. III NCAA tournament. The men are slated to host Catholic on Saturday at 4 p.m.