Men’s basketball falls in Elite Eight, finishes season

Eric Hirsch

In a thrilling weekend of NCAA tournament games in Clinton, N.Y., No. 19 men’s basketball (23–7, 6–4 in the NESCAC) knocked off No. 2 Whitman in the Sweet 16 on Friday night before falling in the Elite Eight to No. 9 Christopher Newport the next day.

The men advanced to the Elite Eight for the sixth time in 10 years but came up just short of a third straight Final Four appearance. 

The loss marked the end of the college careers of the six Eph seniors: Bobby Casey ’19, James Heskett ’19, Kyle Scadlock ’19, Michael Kempton ’19, Marcos Soto ’19 and Jake Porath ’19. Casey, Heskett and Scadlock were the first trio of 1000-point scorers to take the floor at the same time for the Ephs. 

“This senior class means the world to me,” said head coach Kevin App. “They were the first group that said they wanted me to be their head coach. They made it their goal to leave a mark on a program that already had a lot of history. Even though three of them were 1000-point scorers, the entire class was always all about [the] team and each other. They were a joy to be around for four years.”

After double-digit victories over Husson and Gwynedd Mercy in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, the men met second-ranked Whitman on the home court of NESCAC rival No. 10 Hamilton. Despite committing 29 turnovers, the Ephs shot 29 of 43 from the field, including 7-of-11 shooting from 3, and overcame a late charge by the Blues to win 84-81.

As a result of Whitman’s fast-paced full-court press, the game was unlike almost any other the men played this year. While the Blues’ press afforded the Ephs plenty of fast-break opportunities,  Whitman also forced several turnovers but struggled to finish on the other end.

Despite the game’s frantic pace, neither team could build a large lead during the first half. The men finally found the spark they needed off the bench from Mickey Babek ’20. Babek nailed three 3-pointers in a five-minute span to help the men to a 40-33 lead with 3:26 remaining in the half.

The men finished the first half 17 of 27 from the field, including 5 of 7 from 3. Whitman, meanwhile, shot only 13 of 36 in the half despite converting 7 of 16 3-point attempts.

In the second half, Whitman started finding more success in their half-court offense, but the men held onto a high single-digit lead. The Ephs would take their largest lead of the game at 69-55 after two free throws by Scadlock. 

Although the men maintained a comfortable margin, a combination of foul trouble and the relentless Whitman press continued to provide cause for concern. After Matt Karpowicz ’20 made a layup to put the Ephs up 77-65, the Blues rattled off a quick 9-0 run in the following two minutes.

It looked like the game might have been slipping away when Trevor Osborne’s 3 pulled Whitman to within one at 80-79 with 49 seconds left. Then Casey committed a turnover on the next possession to give the Blues one final shot. Out of a timeout, however, Osborne was called for a traveling violation, handing the ball back to the Ephs with the shot clock turned off.

After the Ephs successfully inbounded the ball to Heskett, the senior hit both free throws to put the men up 82-79 with just 21 seconds on the clock. Whitman’s Jack Steward missed a potential game-tying three on the next possession and Kempton won a jump ball to seal the game.

Scadlock led the Ephs with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Babek turned in perhaps the most clutch performance of his career with 12 points off the bench.

With the win, the men advanced to an Elite Eight matchup with Christopher Newport, who edged out host Hamilton 75-67 in its Sweet 16 contest.

Both coming off hard-fought victories, the Ephs and the Captains struggled to find any rhythm on the offensive end at the beginning of the game. After Karpowicz finished a layup inside to collect the game’s first points, the Captains reeled off an 8-2 run to build a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.

Though the men struggled to take care of the ball, solid shooting, together with a strong individual effort from Scadlock, helped the Ephs stay within 7 points throughout the half. With 2:33 remaining, Casey had two free throw attempts to tie the game at 28 but missed the second. The Captains took a 32-30 lead into the break.

After both teams missed on their first attempts of the second half, Christopher Newport guard Tyler Femi drilled a 3 to put the Captains up 35-30. That basket set the tone for the rest of the half as the Ephs suddenly found themselves facing a growing deficit.

The men almost clawed their way back into the game when Soto drilled a 3 from the top of the key to bring the score to 46-43, but Captains guard Jason Aigner responded with a 3 of his own to push their lead back to six.

A layup by Carter, who finished with a game-high 27 points, extended Christopher Newport’s lead to 13 at 67-54. By the time Casey hit his first 3 of the game to narrow the deficit to six at 76-70, there were only 18 seconds remaining, and it was too late.

“I thought we gutted it out and found ways to make some runs,” App said after the game. “But they answered every time, and they did a great job of handling our runs.” 

Casey finished out his college career with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Scadlock added 13 points and 9 rebounds.

“We knew it was going to be a complete contrast from yesterday,” said App. “But that’s what makes this tournament so fun.”

The six seniors concluded their college careers with a record of 84-32 (.724), which included two trips to the Elite Eight (2017 and 2019), a trip to the Final Four (2017) and a NESCAC title (2018). Casey and Heskett were named to 2018-2019 All-NESCAC first and second teams, respectively, for the second consecutive season.