Ephs fall in NCAA Div. III Championship on buzzer beater

Men’s basketball (28-5, 9-1 in the NESCAC) earned a spot in the NCAA Div. III Championship in Salem, Va., on March 22, challenging the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater after defeating rival Amherst in the semifinal. In a game that came down to the last shot, the Ephs made a valiant showing in the championship bout, falling 75-73 after a 98-69 conquest of the Jeffs the night before.

In the semifinal on March 21, Williams defeated Amherst by a hefty margin, employing the full-court press to keep Amherst off the scoreboard. Duncan Robinson ’17 and tri-captain Michael Mayer ’14 started the scoring for the Ephs, as they notched the first six points of the game. Midway through the first, things were still tight, with the Jeffs managing a slim 19-18 lead with 11 minutes to play. The Ephs gained some momentum on back-to-back threes from Robinson and tri-captain Taylor Epley ’14, snaring a 34-25 advantage with 6:46 to play in the first. Amherst dug an early grave by shooting just 38.2 percent in the first half next to Williams’ 56.7 percent, and the men went to the locker room with a 45-32 advantage.

The second half opened with an 11-point run by the Ephs, effectively shutting the door on a Jeff comeback. Midway through the second half, Williams held a 73-50 advantage, and Amherst did not get within 20 points in the remaining minutes. Robinson made the night for the men, netting 30 points and going four for six from behind the arc. Mayer also played an impressive game, recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Ephs improved on their first-half shooting percentage, shooting 63.3 percent in the game.

The championship game against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on March 22 proved much more tightly contested. The Ephs jumped out to a 6-3 lead with layups from Mayer and Robinson, but the Warhawks stayed right in the game. A nine-point run from the Warhawks put the Ephs down 22-12 with 10:10 in the first, and Head Coach Mike Maker called a timeout to regroup. Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 hit a three right out of the timeout, but the Warhawks responded with a layup of their own. Things looked bleak when the Ephs were down 35-20 with five minutes in the half, but the Ephs tore a 12-point run down the stretch, leaving the Warhawks with a dwindling 37-33 lead at the end of the first half.

The Ephs jumped right back on the board with a layup from Mayer on the first possession of the second half, and they continued to make the Warhawks work to maintain a lead. After a Warhawk three about five minutes into the second half, Robinson and Mayer narrowed their opponent’s lead to just 49-47 at 13:03. Daniel Wohl ’15 tied the game one minute later, sinking a pair from the line. Wohl gave the men the lead on an and-one play to put them up 54-52, and a pair of free throws from Mayer turned that into a 56-52 advantage. A clutch three from the Warhawks tied things up again, but the Ephs remained steady and Robinson hit a three for a 63-61 lead with seven to play. The game was back-and-forth for the remainder of the half and the final minute of play decided the championship.

Warhawk Eric Bryson hit a three with 54 seconds on the clock to give his team a 72-71 advantage. The Warhawks then stole the ball, and Robinson fouled Alex Merg. Merg missed his free throw and Wohl grabbed the rebound. It looked like the game had been won after Mayer tipped in a missed layup to give the Ephs a 73-72 lead. However, the Warhawks raced down the court on the inbound pass, making a layup and a free throw to take the game 75-73. A last-second heave from Robinson missed, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was crowned NCAA Div. III Champion.

With the loss, Williams concludes an impressive season and graduates five seniors: Matt McCreary ’14, Greg Payton ’14, tri-captain John Weinheimer ’14, Epley and Mayer.

“It was an incredible season. We really grew as a team and we played our best basketball at the right time. We made a tremendous run at the end and you can’t ask for much more than that,” Weinheimer said.