No. 5 men’s basketball concludes season in NCAA second round

No. 5 men’s basketball (23–6, 7–3 in the NESCAC) saw its NCAA tournament run come to an end in the Round of 32 last weekend. In a packed Chandler Gymnasium, the men opened the tournament with a 56-45 victory over Bridgewater State on Friday but suffered a 66-62 loss to Ramapo on Saturday.

“It’s never easy when it ends,” head coach Kevin App said. “We’re disappointed, [but] there are going to be two banners up there [in the rafters] that say 2018 with this team. That’s a lot to be proud of.”

App offered praise for co-captains Mike Greenman ’17.5, Chris Galvin ’18, Adam Kroot ’18 and Cole Teal ’18. This senior class is the first to have played for four years under App, and they  helped lead the Ephs to a Final Four appearance last year and a NESCAC title this year, the school’s first since 2010.

“I told them I have the best job in the country because they teach me as much as I teach them,” App said. “The four seniors will probably teach me more than any graduating class just because I started here with them. We got to grow and learn and have some fun together. We shared every emotion together, every moment together.”

After a sluggish start on Friday, a strong second half took the Ephs through to the second round.

In the first half, Bridgewater State limited Williams to 22.6 percent (7-of-31) from the field while holding NESCAC Player of the Year James Heskett ’19 scoreless.

“Bridgewater State did a good job changing up defenses,” App said. “In the first half, it seemed like two teams that were a little over-amped up for the NCAA tournament, which is what happens sometimes. Shots that normally go in for both teams weren’t.”

After making their first two shots to go up 4-0, the men missed 10 straight attempts, while Bridgewater State scored nine unanswered points to take the lead. Forward Marcos Soto ’19 ended the drought with a layup and a 3 on consecutive possessions, tying the game 9-9. The first half, which featured six lead changes, finished 21-20 in Williams’ favor.

The Ephs came out of the break with improved ball movement. “Everyone was touching it,” Heskett said. “[We] got layups and open 3s. It got back to simply executing.”

The men outscored Bridgewater State 11-4 in the opening minutes of the second half, taking a 32-24 lead. Led by forward Joseph Carty, who at one point scored 11 straight points for Bridgewater State, the Bears trimmed the deficit to five with 9:54 remaining.

The men, however, went on a 14-0 run to take a commanding lead, finishing with a 56-45 victory.

Casey provided 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals for the Ephs. Heskett added 13, all in the second half. Carty finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Bears.

On Saturday, Ramapo forward Thomas Bonacum’s double-double led the Roadrunners past the Ephs. The men rallied from a second-half deficit to take a 59-58 lead with 3:24 left, but Ramapo scored eight straight points in the final minutes to clinch the game.

“It was a really hard-fought basketball game,” App said. “There were runs going back and forth. Ramapo made a couple shots down the stretch, and we missed a couple. Unfortunately, in a close game, it comes down to that.”

Casey, who shot 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, and Heskett each scored 21 points for the Ephs.

Bonacum’s dominance in the second half, however, gave Ramapo the victory. The 2017 NABC First Team All-American finished with half his team’s points, scoring 33 on 11-of-15 shooting from the field, 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 at the free throw line. He played 38 minutes, including all 20 in the second half, adding 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block.

Ramapo used a full-court press to slow the Williams offense. Greenman said that the Ephs did well to create open shots against the press but were unable to convert scoring opportunities.

“We got exactly what we wanted, but we just didn’t make shots,” Greenman said. “When we weren’t making shots, we let it affect us on the defensive end a little bit, giving up a couple of easy baskets. When you’re playing in the NCAA tournament and both teams are really good, that’s the difference in some games.”

Casey’s 2 steals in the opening minutes led to transition baskets, and he scored seven of his team’s first 13 points. The men jumped out to an early lead before Ramapo tallied 10 straight points to go up 18-15. Greenman drilled consecutive 3s to give the Ephs the lead back, and the men outscored Ramapo 10-2 in a two-minute stretch, going ahead 31-22 with 5:44 left in the half.

The Ephs, however, missed their last seven shots of the half, and the Roadrunners finished the period on a 10-0 run. Bonacum hit a 3 and a layup on consecutive possessions to give Ramapo a 35-33 lead entering the break.

Bonacum scored 15 of his team’s first 18 points in the second half, propelling Ramapo to its largest lead of the game at 11:32. The Roadrunners led 48-40, but a Casey 3 and a pair of layups by Heskett pulled the Ephs within one with 9:58 remaining. The visitors extended their lead to 56-49 with 6:09 left before Teal answered with a 3.

Down 58-52, the Ephs scored seven unanswered points to take a 59-58 lead. Casey made a driving layup, and Teal found Heskett for a dunk on the next possession, animating the thunderous home crowd. After a defensive stop, Heskett sank a 3 to give the men their first lead since the first half.

Ramapo retook the lead on two free throws by forward Christopher Moseley. Up 60-59, the Roadrunners put together a string of stops, including a shot clock violation, to hold the Ephs scoreless for over three minutes. Bonacum shot 4-for-4 from the free throw line to clinch the game, which finished 66-62 in the visitors’ favor.

The men graduate Galvin, Greenman, Kroot and Teal. Greenman finishes with a career total of 331 assists, ninth in program history.

App said that the end of the season was bittersweet, but he believes the seniors have cherished their time in the program.

“We’re hurting right now, but we’ve been talking all year: It’s not what the banner says or what the win-loss numbers say,” he said. “It’s the fun little stuff that happens along the way [that matters], and I think the guys will see that. Some great stuff has happened these last four years.”

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