Top Four Seeds All Advance to Semifinals
HADLEY, Mass. – Williams College will look to earn its fourth NESCAC title this weekend when the top-seeded Ephs host the remaining rounds of the 2010 NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship at Chandler Gymnasium in Williamstown, Mass. Action gets underway on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. with the first semifinal featuring the hosts against fourth-seeded Bates, followed by third-seeded Colby clashing with second-seeded Middlebury, the defending conference champions. Saturday’s winners will meet on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 12:00 p.m. for a shot at the 2010 NESCAC championship. Tickets for this weekend are $5 for adults and $2 for students per day. Fans unable to attend the game will be able to catch all the action live via the Internet courtesy of Williams.
Williams (24-1, 9-0 NESCAC) has enjoyed a renaissance on the court this year, as the Ephs put together an undefeated record in league play and captured the number one seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 2004. In addition, the Ephs have eclipsed 20 wins, again the first time since 2004, with their lone loss coming at Randolph-Macon on Dec. 30, 79-74. A driving force behind Williams’ success this season has been the spectacular play of its offense. The Ephs lead the league in scoring with an 86.6 points per game average and they have outscored opponents by a margin of 21.0 points, a figure that is tops in the nation. It should come as no surprise then that the high-octane offense of Williams also boasts a NESCAC-best .529 percent shooting percentage and a .464 conversion rate from three-point range. A big reason for the Ephs’ offensive success has been the dynamic duo of senior Blake Schultz (Atherton, Calif.) and sophomore James Wang (Sydney, Australia). The tandem are both in the top five in the NESCAC in points with Schultz leading all scorers at 19.0 points per game followed by Wang in fifth with 16.7. An All-NESCAC First Team honoree a year ago, Schultz also has the best three-point field goal percentage in the conference (.545) and is seventh among all players in overall field goal shooting (.538). Wang is right behind his teammate in shooting from beyond the arc (.525) and is fifth overall (.570). In the Ephs’ quarterfinal outing against Wesleyan, Wang dropped a game- and career-high 30 points to help Williams earn a 77-62 victory and move one step closer to its first title since 2007.
Planning on spoiling the party for Williams this weekend is fourth-seeded Bates (14-11, 5-4 NESCAC). The Bobcats were in dire straits at the midpoint of the conference slate, holding an 0-4 league record and sitting at the bottom of the standings after losing back-to-back overtime affairs to Maine rivals Bowdoin (74-70) and Colby (73-66) on Jan. 22-23. With a playoff berth in doubt and a home quarterfinal game seemingly out of reach, Bates turned things around and won six of its final seven games, including a monumental 76-47 victory over Amherst - the first for the Bobcats since the 1987-88 season - on Feb. 5 and a 64-55, come-from-behind win against Tufts in the season finale on Feb. 13. Bates carried the momentum from the decision against the Jumbos into the quarterfinals and rolled past Bowdoin 80-64, avenging two regular season losses to the Polar Bears in the process. The victory put the Bobcats into the semifinals for the first time since 2006 where they will face the host Ephs, who were a 92-62 winner in the single meeting between the two on Jan. 16 in Williamstown. Bates and Williams have a bit of history together in the NESCAC championship, as this will be their fifth showdown all-time. The Ephs won the first two in 2003 and 2004 en route to their first two league titles, while the Bobcats won the 2005 first round meeting in overtime as they made their only conference championship appearance that year. Last year, Williams got by Bates in the quarterfinals with an 87-78 victory at home. Hoping to lead the Bobcats to Sunday’s final is junior Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.). Ellis paces his squad with 15.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, both of which rank ninth among all conference players this season.
Looking to return to the title game for the second year in a row will be defending NESCAC champion Middlebury (23-2, 8-1 NESCAC), the number two seed in this year’s tournament. Last season was memorable for Panther fans, as their team recorded a program-best 24 wins and earned its first conference crown at home over Amherst, 77-68. Middlebury picked up in November right where it left off last March with a team-record 10 wins to start the season. The Panthers just missed out on the number one seed for the second year in a row after falling to Williams on Jan. 30, 79-64, a game in which they were without leading scorer Ryan Sharry (Braintree, Mass.). Sharry, who averages 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, scored a game-high 18 to lead his team past a pesky Trinity squad in the quarterfinals, 56-52. Although Middlebury’s offense ranks among the league leaders at 75.2 points per game, its defense is second to none as it allows on average a league-low 61.1 points per game and holds opponents to a .362 percent shooting mark, the best in the nation. Heading up the Middlebury defense are senior Tim Edwards (Greenwich, Conn.) and junior Andrew Locke (Seattle, Wash.). The 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, Edwards has battled past injuries to return to the lineup and is second in the conference in steals (2.11 per game) and assists (5.26). He has also grabbed 7.1 rebounds per contest and has an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.13. Locke currently leads the league in blocks with a 3.68 average. One more victory for the Panthers will tie the record for wins in a season, while two more victories will not only surpass last year’s total but also give them their second NESCAC title.
Standing in the way of the Panthers’ quest for a second-straight title will be third-seeded Colby (19-5, 6-3 NESCAC). The Mules reached the semifinals for only the third time in postseason history when they handed Amherst its first-ever quarterfinal loss on Saturday afternoon, 67-49. Like Middlebury, Colby started the season off strong, posting seven consecutive victories at the beginning of the year and going 16-2 overall before dropping its first two conference contests at Williams (82-58) and Middlebury (72-57) on Feb. 5-6. The Mules are also similar to their semifinal opponent statistically, as they are second to the Panthers in both scoring defense at 61.3 points per game and shooting defense at .386 percent. Interestingly enough, Colby’s two previous first round wins in 2001 and 2007 came against Middlebury, the only squad among the semifinalists that the Mules have faced in tournament history. A win for the Mules in the semifinals would give them their first 20-win season in 10 years along with a guarantee to play for the NESCAC title for the first time ever. Leading the way for the Mules this season has been senior Adam Choice (Newport, R.I.). A two-time All-NESCAC selection, Choice has made a case for consideration as NESCAC Player of the Year along with Williams’ Schultz, as Choice ranks among the top 10 in the league in points, rebounds, steals, and assists. He is second to Schultz in scoring currently, averaging a career-best 18.8 points while starting all 25 games for the Mules.
2010 NESCAC MEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Semifinals - Saturday, February 27 at Williams
No. 4 Bates at No. 1 Williams - 2:00 p.m.
No. 3 Colby vs. No. 2 Middlebury - 4:00 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, February 28
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.