Men’s basketball survives OT thriller against Tufts

Photo courtesy of Sports Information Duncan Robinson ’17 had 10 points for the Ephs on Saturday against the Jumbos in the men’s 87-77 overtime victory.
Photo courtesy of Sports Information
Duncan Robinson ’17 had 10 points for the Ephs on Saturday against the Jumbos in the men’s 87-77 overtime victory.

Men’s basketball

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(22-3, 9-1 in the NESCAC) staved off an upset from Tufts in the NESCAC quarterfinals on Saturday. Williams had previously beaten Tufts 93-70 on Feb. 8 in a regular-season conference game. However, the Jumbos came in ready to play and the Ephs needed overtime to put them away and advance to the semifinals with an 87-77 victory.

Tufts began Saturday’s game with confidence, pinning the men down early. The Jumbos established a six-point lead in the first seven minutes of play and kept the Ephs scrambling to keep up. Tufts wore the men’s defense down, routinely running the shot clock down to less than five seconds. Williams was resilient, however, trading baskets with Tufts throughout the first half. With just under seven minutes to play, tri-captain Taylor Epley ’14 brought the Ephs within one after putting back an offensive rebound from a missed three-pointer by Mike Greenman ’17. Jumbos big man Hunter Sabety, who proved a nuisance the entire game, made back-to-back shots following Epley’s basket to put his team back up 20-15. Greenman hit a key three from the corner at the five-minute mark to reinvigorate his squad, and the Ephs played well in the final five minutes of the half. Daniel Wohl ’15 sank a shot from the arc to knot the game at 22-22, and tri-captain Michael Mayer ’14 put in a layup after a steal by Duncan Robinson ’17 to finally give the Ephs the lead. A pair of threes returned the lead to Tufts, but a smart pass from Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 assisted Ryan Kilcullen ’15 in sinking a long ball with seven seconds on the clock. The men went to the locker room at the break, down 32-31.

“Tufts came out very confident and full of energy,” Mayer said. “They were very patient going against our zone defense and that generated a lot of good shots. And they also made a much more concerted effort to get the ball to their big man Hunter Sabety. He is athletic and has good skill, so that makes him a tough matchup for whoever they play.”

Coming out of the break, Mayer put the team on his back, netting nine points in the first three minutes of the half. It looked like the men might establish a stable lead when Rooke-Ley sank a three at 13:39 to give them a 45-41 advantage, but Tufts responded with a three of its own. Halfway through the period, the Ephs found themselves up by just two points, and solid shooting from the three-point line kept the Jumbos too close for comfort. With 2:20 on the clock, Sabety sank two shots from the line to give his team a 64-60 lead, and the men were forced to buckle down in order to hold off an upset. After Robinson missed a three-point attempt, Mayer grabbed the board and was fouled. He sank both of his shots before Greenman hit a clutch three to slice Tufts’ lead to 66-65 with under a minute to play. Head Coach Mike Maker called a 30-second timeout, and Greenman drilled a jumper to give the men a 67-66 advantage. With three seconds remaining, the referees made a tough call on Robinson in the Jumbos’ offensive lane that sent Sabety to the line. Sabety sank his first shot to knot the game at 67-67, but his second attempt mercifully missed, sending the quarterfinal game into a five-minute overtime period.

Overtime proved to be just what the men had ordered. Sabety was relegated to the bench after fouling out and the Ephs created the separation they needed. A huge three from Epley two minutes into extra time effectively sealed the deal, giving the Ephs a 77-71 lead that Robinson built on in the final minutes of the game. The game ended in an 87-77 victory for the Ephs, who will move on to the semifinal round of the NESCAC tournament.

Mayer did the bulk of the offensive work, tying his career-high of 30 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Greenman managed 13 points and was three for four from the arc.

“Mike [Greenman] has been nothing short of awesome,” Mayer said. “He has stepped up in the absence of a great player in Hayden Rooke-Ley and been able to keep us afloat. He has zero fear when he plays, and that showed with the two huge shots he hit at the end of the Tufts game.”

The Ephs shot 49.1 percent from the field, while the Jumbos shot 45.5 percent.

Williams will play Middlebury at Amherst this Saturday. Tipoff is at 4 p.m. Williams narrowly beat Middlebury in the regular season on Jan. 31, taking a 64-61 victory. The winner of the Williams-Middlebury game will take on the winner of the Amherst-Trinity semifinal in the NESCAC Championship matchup on Sunday.