Men’s basketball finishes regular season in five-way tie for top NESCAC spot

Bobby Casey ’19 was the leading scorer in games against Hamilton and Amherst with 31 and 22 points, respectively. Photo Courtesy of Sports Information.

No. 13 men’s basketball (19–5, 7–3 in the NESCAC) closed out its regular season last weekend with an 81-67 victory against No. 21 Hamilton and a 72-57 loss to archrival Amherst.

On Saturday, the Ephs played their last game of the regular season at the Continentals’ home court. The men came into the game looking to dethrone Hamilton from first place in the NESCAC standings, and they did just that, ending the season in a five-way tie for first in the conference alongside Amherst, Hamilton, Wesleyan and Middlebury.

The Ephs struck first with a layup from James Heskett ’19, but the Continentals battled back with a corner 3-pointer to take the lead. From there, Heskett, Bobby Casey ’19 and Matthew Karpowicz ’20 went on a scoring run to put the men up 18-7 with only 15 minutes left in the half.

The Continentals chipped at the lead after a timeout, but the Ephs answered back with a 3-pointer by co-captain Adam Kroot ’18 and an and-one layup from Henry Feinberg ’20. With six minutes left in the half, the Continentals evened the score with a corner 3. From there, the two teams traded buckets and remained deadlocked 41-41 at the end of the half.

The Ephs had a stellar shooting half, making 15 of 29 attempts and seven of 15 from deep. Casey headlined the team with a 19-point, four-assist performance at the break.

A dunk from Heskett opened the second half, but the Continentals gained their first lead since the first 46 seconds of the game off of a step-back 3-pointer. After several minutes of back-and-forth basketball, Heskett gave the Ephs a one-point lead after hitting an and-one layup. Hesket then extended the Ephs’ lead to three with a mid-range jumper.

Following a scoring run capped by another and-one layup by Feinberg, the Ephs led by 10 with five minutes left in the contest. The men held their composure the rest of the game and finished with an 81-67 win. Casey totaled 31 points, and Heskett poured in 24 points.

Head coach Kevin App commented on the Ephs’ win in a matchup between NESCAC heavyweights. “I thought we played like a poised and tough team,” App said. “It was a great team victory, and we had foul trouble. [Casey] scored some points and made a lot of shots, but  over three of the last four games, [Kroot has] come in and absolutely given us tremendous minutes. I was really proud of our upperclassmen for leading this team and not letting the setback [Friday] night affect how we played.”

In Friday night’s showdown, the men fell 72-57 at Amherst. The Ephs edged the Mammoths 72-69 on Jan. 17 but could not repeat the performance.

The Mammoths struck first with a 3-pointer by Johnny McCarthy, but the Ephs responded with a 3 by Casey. Each team continued to score, but the Mammoths built their lead to 10. Casey led the charge after a timeout with a driving layup, a jumper in the lane and, later, a step-back shot, but Amherst answered back with a series of layups and timely shooting. At the end of the half, the Mammoths were up 37-21.

The Ephs got off to an unusually slow start offensively, with Casey recording more than half of the points in the half.

In the second half, the Mammoths continued to put themselves on the scoreboard with 3s and layups. Casey showed no signs of slowing down on the offensive side and got his first two buckets of the half to cut the lead down to 14.

Moments later, Casey hit a deep 3 for his 18th point. The Ephs focused on feeding the ball in the post and found success on the inside that created an opportunity for Mickey Babek ’20 to sink a 3-pointer. With eight minutes left, Casey’s 3 brought the Mammoth lead down to five, but Amherst responded with a couple of layups. In the end, the Ephs’ comeback came up short, and the Mammoths walked out with a 72-57 victory.

App said the team needed more effort early in the game but improved in the second half. “I think we lost our poise during a couple stretches, but we have to give Amherst credit,” he said. “They came out and played hard and made some shots. I thought we fought and made a couple runs in the second half to give ourselves a chance, but we couldn’t quite get over that hump.”

App also commented on the upcoming playoffs. “We love this time of year,” App said. “Next week is a unique one where we only prepare for one game. Our constant message is [that] we have to find things to improve [on] and get better at and become a better version of ourselves next week. It’s a fun time of year. I think our guys felt that this weekend. Playing important games against talented teams is why you compete in the NESCAC and why this time of year is really fun.”

The men, seeded second for the NESCAC tournament, host No. 7 seed Trinity on Saturday at 3 p.m. for a first-round game.

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