Ephs hold off Panthers, River Hawks to advance to Final Four

Last weekend, men’s basketball (23–8, 8–8 in the NESCAC) defeated Susquehanna and Middlebury to reach the Final Four of the NCAA Div. III tournament.

On Friday, the men advanced to the Elite Eight with a 78-61 victory over the Susquehanna River Hawks.

Both teams opened the game with 8-0 runs. Susquehanna scored first, but the men struck back with a 3-point play fromMarcos Soto ’19, a pair of foul shots from Kyle Scadlock ’19 and a 3-pointer from tri-captain Mike Greenman ’18.

After trading buckets for a couple of minutes, the River Hawks established a five-point lead. The Ephs labored under this deficit for a few minutes until Greenman and Cole Teal ’18 nailed back-to-back treys.

Both teams then slowed down, but James Heskett ’19 and Bobby Casey ’19 reestablished the men’s momentum by sinking consecutive 3-pointers. Two foul shots from Michael Kempton ’19 put the score at 33-28 in the final minute and sent the Ephs into the locker room up five.

The men started the second half shakily but soon launched into a 15-3 run that put the game away.

Scadlock demonstrated his physicality with two hard drives for scores. On the next possession, he drew the defense’s attention, leaving Soto wide open on the block for a third straight bucket. Meanwhile, turnovers prevented Susquehanna from even getting a shot off.

River Hawk center Ryan Traub finally got a layup after eight unanswered points by the Ephs, but he was answered by a 3-pointer from tri-captain Dan Aronowitz ’17. Scadlock’s free throw shooting – he was a perfect 12-12 from the line on the night – and a dagger from long range by Teal helped the Ephs accumulate a 16-point lead with 11 minutes to play. The final buzzer sounded with Williams on top 78-61.

Scadlock recorded his fifth double-double of the year and his third of the postseason, leading Williams with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Greenman added 14 points, while Dan Aronowitz contributed 11, all in the second half, as well as eight rebounds. Aronowitz’s performance on the boards put him over 500 rebounds in his career.

“We have been learning throughout the season that it doesn’t matter when you make your run,” Head Coach Kevin App said. “We weathered the storm early and let ourselves calm down a little bit, and we just kept competing and got enough stops on the defensive end.”

On Saturday, the Ephs punched their ticket to the Final Four in a nailbiter, defeating the Panthers by a score of 79-75.

The men had lost to Middlebury by 22 points in the NESCAC Championship game on Feb. 26 but won by 24 in the previous meeting on Jan. 22.

The Panthers led early, as 3-pointers from Jack Daly and Matt St. Amour riled up the home crowd in Pepin Gym. Teal was able to answer, however, and the game settled into a slog, with Middlebury maintaining a small lead.

Midway through the half, St. Amour intercepted a Williams pass and fed Jake Brown for a fast-break layup to extend the lead to eight, but Teal answered with a 3-pointer once again. Matt Folger hit a trey of his own, but a tip-in by Matt Karpowicz ’20 and another long ball by Teal cut the Ephs’ deficit to just three with eight minutes to go in the half.

The Panthers relinquished the lead when Casey sank a 3-pointer to tie the game at 33, and an Aronowitz layup put Williams up by two. A St. Amour fadeaway retook the lead for the Panthers, but a post bucket by Karpowicz and a pull-up jumper in the lane by Greenman set the halftime score at 39-37 in the Ephs’ favor.

From there, Daly sank a long trey to open the second half. Scadlock answered, but aggressive defense by the Panthers kept the Ephs scoreless for the next few minutes. Heskett snapped the drought with a trey to pull the men back within two, and a Greenman three tied the game at 49 with 14:11 to play.

Heskett then came up with two steals in quick succession, and Middlebury began to struggle offensively. Capitalizing on the Panthers’ shooting woes, Karpowicz converted a 3-point play, Teal sunk his fourth 3-pointer of the game and Aronowitz scored on a cut to the basket to put together an 8-0 run for the Ephs.

Back-to-back threes by Daly and Brown cut Williams’ lead to just one, but Casey nailed a 3-pointer, and  Kempton scored on a second-chance layup and added a post bucket on the next trip. With six minutes left, Casey successfully stuffed Eric McCord in the post and then sank a three to extend the lead to nine, the Ephs’ largest of the game.

The teams traded baskets until Kyle Scadlock hit a 3-pointer in the final two minutes, seemingly locking up the game. The Panthers, however, were not done. Capitalizing on a series of missed shots by Williams and employing their trapping defense effectively, Middlebury drew several fouls and hit its free throws, racking up seven unanswered points solely from the charity stripe.

Now leading by only two with 38 seconds left, Greenman miraculously escaped a trap in the backcourt and eventually got the ball to Scadlock, who was intentionally fouled with 21 seconds to play. Scadlock, who had only missed one free throw in his last 27 attempts, missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Middlebury a chance to complete the improbable comeback. With 10 seconds left, Daly drove hard to the lane but was unable to finish, and Matt Folger could not get a second-chance attempt to fall.

Soto was fouled immediately upon grabbing the rebound and hit both his shots to make it a two-possession game. St. Amour missed a desperation attempt at the buzzer, and the Ephs hung on to the razor-tight victory.

The Final Four run is the program’s fourth in the last eight years and the first for App, who is in his third year as head coach.

Scadlock led the Ephs with 14 points, trailed closely by Teal and Casey, each with 12. Aronowitz registered his fifth double-double on the year.

“It was a hard-fought game between two really good teams in a phenomenal atmosphere,” App said. “Fortunately, we were able to make some big shots to build the lead and hang on tight to it down the stretch.”

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Aronowitz added. “I just try to tell the guys every day not to take it for granted and to have fun. I’m happy to be going back to [the Final Four] because not everybody gets this opportunity, and we’re certainly going to take advantage of it.”

The men will travel to Salem, Va., to face off against Augustana (Ill.) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. No. 1 Whitman and No. 3 Babson will compete in the other semifinal, and the two winners will face off in the championship game Saturday at 6 p.m.