Last weekend, men’s basketball (21–8, 5–5 in the NESCAC) took down Becker and Scranton to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. An exceptional 3-point shooting performance and an energetic crowd in Chandler Gym guided the Ephs to two convincing victories.
After earning second in the NESCAC tournament, the men made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2014, when they fell to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the title game.
On Friday, they faced the Becker Hawks, who had earned an automatic bid as the champion of the New England Collegiate Conference.
The Hawks took an an early 7-2 lead. Becker guard Kareem Davis hit three 3-pointers in the first five minutes to maintain the advantage.
With 10:34 left in the half, though, the Ephs went on an offensive tear. A Bobby Casey ’19 3-pointer gave the men a 17-16 lead, and they hit 14 of their 20 shot attempts in the remainder of the half, with a 69 percent success rate from beyond the arc.
During that period, Becker suffered from a series of unlucky bounces and rolls amid a raucous home crowd of 867; the Hawks shot just 23 percent from the field in the last 10 minutes of the half.
With 8:52 to play, the Ephs were up 19-18. Tri-captain Mike Greenman ’18 knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, and tri-captain Daniel Aronowitz ’17 followed with a three of his own. After a Becker timeout, James Heskett ’19 stepped up to continue the streak, converting a 3-point play and then swishing a trey of his own. Kyle Scadlock ’19 then nailed a three, the Ephs’ fifth straight.
With the Hawks still unable to score, Casey stole the ball and converted a fast-break opportunity. Greenman added another three to cap a 27-0 Ephs’ run, before Becker finally scored its first points in nearly seven minutes.
Greenman would not miss for the rest of the game, sinking his last six tries from deep. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the men led 52-27 and had hit seven straight long balls.
In the second half, the men did not slow down. Back-to-back threes by Greenman and Cole Teal ’18 extended the lead to 30 and announced the Ephs’ intention to maintain control for the rest of the game. Midway through the second half, Williams obtained its largest lead of the game, 44 points.
With 3:31 left and the score at 89-56, Head Coach Kevin App put the Eph reserves in the game. Tri-captain Taysean Scott ’17 stepped on the court to a standing ovation. Only 32 seconds after he stepped on the court, he was fouled on a layup attempt. He drained both shots from the free-throw line, earning his first two points in a Williams jersey.
Becker worked the deficit down, but the score sat at 91-63 when the final buzzer sounded.
Greenman led the Ephs with 21 points, tying a career high, on 7-9 shooting all from 3-point range. Aronowitz added 18, and Heskett, Casey and Teal each scored in double digits. Samuel Durodola paced Becker with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“Once we found our footing, we played with tremendous confidence,” App said. “We had tremendous fan support, and it was a fun game. Our leaders led, and everyone else followed.”
Greenman credited his teammates for his career night. “We moved the ball well and were able to get shots in good positions,” he said. “My teammates got the ball to me and trusted me to make shots, and luckily I did. It was all about keeping it simple like we’ve done all season.”
On the game, the Ephs hit 54.1 percent of their shots and 51.6 percent of their long-distance attempts, a season-high. The Hawks shot 39.3 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from deep.
Saturday, the men faced the Scranton Royals, champions of the Landmark Conference.
The Ephs again fell behind early. The Royals scored the game’s first nine points and made their first seven shots, holding the Ephs scoreless for the opening three minutes of the contest. Royals big men John Vitkus and Drew Schankweiler each contributed a post bucket. Ethan Danzig followed up with a three before Vitkus hit a mid-range jumper, giving the crowd of 536 some anxiety.
The Eph fans were quickly reassured, however. Greenman continued his hot shooting from the previous night, making back-to-back threes. After Scranton brought its lead back to nine, Aronowitz knocked home two consecutive threes of his own, riling up the crowd and cutting the deficit to five. Greenman answered a Vitkus dunk with yet another trey, and Cole converted a fast-break layup to tie the game at 17.
The men took the lead on a pair of foul shots by Scadlock, and treys by Casey and Aronowitz put them up seven. Teal exploded, nailing three consecutive treys to put the Williams lead firmly in double digits with 3:55 left in the half. Aronowitz beat the halftime buzzer with his third 3-pointer of the half to make the score 48-31 Ephs.
While Scranton converted a very high percentage of shots they put up – 62 percent in the half – the men forced an impressive 13 turnovers in the first half, nine of them coming on steals.
“We took Scranton out of what they wanted to do,” App said.
He praised center Michael Kempton ’19 for his defensive effort. “He came in to guard one of the best post players [Vitkus] we’ve seen all year,” App said. “Mike is one of the better post defenders I’ve ever seen, and he was our team MVP tonight.”
In the first half, 19 of the men’s 30 shots were from behind the arc, and they hit 11 of them (57.9 percent).
The Ephs opened the second half with an 11-3 run that upped the margin to 25 points, essentially putting the game away. While Scranton worked the deficit back down, they were never able to seriously challenge in the second half. The men won by a final score of 80-53.
Aronowitz led all scorers with 22 points and became the 18th player in school history to score 500 points in a season. Greenman set a career high with 11 assists, adding 11 points as well. Kempton was one rebound shy of a double-double, registering 10 points and nine boards.
Williams will face Susquehanna at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the Sweet 16 at Middlebury. The winner will play either Middlebury or Endicott at 7 p.m. on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
“It has been fun up until now,” Coach App said, “and hopefully the confidence we’ve seen will just keep snowballing. We’re excited to have another week of basketball with this group.”