Men’s basketball surges to Sweet 16 with 89-78 victory

Men’s basketball (25-4, 9-1 in the NESCAC) powered into the Sweet 16 of the Div. III NCAA tournament with an 89-78 victory over Catholic on Saturday. Playing in front of a packed house, Michael Mayer ’14 pulled out a huge game for the Ephs, notching a double-double and facilitating several key momentum swings.

The men got off to a slow start, as Catholic scored first and Williams missed its first few shots. Taylor Epley ’14 got the men started, scoring the team’s first six points with a three, a layup and a shot from the line. The Cardinals proved worthy opponents, however, eventually stacking up a 12-6 lead about five minutes into the game. Mayer stepped up with a jumper to cut into the lead, and a minute later co-captain James Klemm ’13 stymied the Cardinals with a long ball, making the score 14-11 in the Cardinals’ favor with 13 to play in the first.

Catholic kept the pressure on, netting a three and capitalizing on weak pressure at the net with a dunk. Daniel Wohl ’15 quickly put a stop to the Cardinals’ run with a huge three assisted by co-captain Nate Robertson ’13 to narrow the Cardinals’ lead to 19-16. A few minutes later, Mayer and John Weinheimer ’14 made sure the Cardinals’ advantage continued to dwindle. Weinheimer and Mayer hit the boards to keep the ball on the Ephs’ end, with Weinheimer ultimately making the basket through a Cardinal foul, giving his team a 20-19 advantage. Weinheimer got the Ephs the ball again off a steal and scored the breakaway basket. Mayer got in on the game, collecting an offensive board from Weinheimer’s shot to score two more for the men.

“John [Weinheimer] always gives us a huge boost coming off the best due to his athleticism and feel for the game,” Klemm said. “He is such a versatile player, making plays on both ends of the floor. This was evident on Saturday when he had a rebound put back on the offensive end and then a huge steal leading to a layup on the defensive end.”

Catholic kept it close, though, tying the game at 24-24 off a dunk from Chris Kearney, who plagued the men the entire first half before leaving the second with an injury.

With threes from Mayer and Klemm, the men established a 34-28 advantage. Catholic hit the boards hard in the final minutes of the half, and the men watched as their lead dwindled to 39-38 after a Catholic three with eight seconds left. Wohl hit a buzzer jumper, though, sending the Ephs to the half with a 41-38 lead.

The second half was just as tight as the first, with the Cardinals clawing back into the game. The men missed on some low-percentage shots in the opening minutes, allowing Catholic to snare a 46-43 edge. Wohl silenced the Cardinals again with a three and then snared a defensive rebound, which allowed Mayer to bank two points. Scoring was torrid for the next minute until Catholic had another media timeout, which slowed the game down a bit. After the timeout, Epley hit another three, tying the game at 53-53 with under 15 to play.

Catholic gained a slight advantage then, but the Cardinals got into foul trouble early, giving the Ephs plenty of shots at the line. The men were down five with 8:27 to play, but Mayer made another key basket, which Wohl followed up with a score from behind the arc to tie the game at 65-65. Heading into the final five minutes of the game, the Ephs notched a series of threes, with Wohl, Klemm and Robertson all getting in on the action to establish a 76-70 lead. After a three from Catholic, the men finished the job. Mayer notched another two-pointer, followed by threes from Epley and Klemm to give the Ephs an 84-73 advantage with under two on the clock. The Cardinals were forced to foul, and their foul trouble earlier in the half let the Ephs widen the gap quickly. The men walked off the courts with an 89-78 win and a Sweet 16 berth.

“Although Catholic had a little foul trouble early, we also had our fair share of foul trouble with Nate [Robertson] picking up his fourth in the second half,” Klemm said. “Our game plan never changed. We continued to attack and do our best on the defensive end in order to stop their talented players.”

All five starters scored in double digits, and Mayer led the pack with 27 points and 10 rebounds. “Mike [Mayer] is one of the most talented players I’ve ever played with,” Klemm said. “We all know he can score the basketball in a variety of ways, but I often think his defense is underrated. He is extremely tough, leading us in rebounding while having to guard the other team’s big man, but also extremely smart. He’s always in a position to help any perimeter player who gets beat off the dribble.” Epley contributed 19 points and four boards. Weinheimer made the most of his playing time off the bench, pulling down five boards, one steal and four points. The Ephs shot 50.8 percent next to the Cardinals’ 44.6 percent.

The men will next play Virginia Wesleyan, who was ranked No. 25 in the final d3hoops.com poll of the season, in the third round of the tournament at home on Saturday. Fellow NESCAC competitors Amherst and Middlebury remain in the tournament.