Courtesy of Amherst Sports Information
AMHERST, Mass. - Erasing an 11-point halftime deficit, the second-seeded Williams men's basketball team rallied past Middlebury in a NESCAC semifinal game at LeFrak Gymnasium, 78-75.
With Middlebury shooting a blistering 64.5 percent (20-of-31) from the field and 71.4 percent (10-of-14) from three over the first 20 minutes, the Ephs clamped down following the intermission, limiting the third-seeded Panthers to just 28.6 percent (8-for-28) shooting and an 18.2 percent (2-of-11) clip from behind the arc.
With the win, the Ephs (23-3, 9-1 NESCAC) advanced to face top-seeded Amherst in tomorrow's final, setting up a rematch of last year's championship game which the Jeffs won, 74-73. Falling to 17-9 (6-4 NESCAC) on the season, the Panthers must now wait to hear about a possible NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Williams' Michael Mayer led all scorers with 27 points, knocking down nine of his 17 shots, while also grabbing seven rebounds. Hayden Rooke-Ley had 14 points and four boards, while Duncan Robinson was the only other Eph to score in double figures with 12.
Joey Kizel paced Middlebury with 24 points, connecting on 8-of-18 field goals and 6-of-12 threes. Netting 19 in the first half, Kizel managed just five points in the second, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-6 from deep. Dylan Sinnickson finished with 14 points and five rebounds, while Hunter Merryman chipped in with 12 points and four boards.
Building an early lead, Middlebury went up 10-6 with 17:23 on the clock on a Kizel triple. Battling back, Williams pieced together a 10-2 run over a span of three-plus minutes, carving out a 16-12 margin on a Taylor Epley trey.
Still down four with less than six and a half minutes to go in the first, the Panthers rattled off a 20-3 run over a stretch of 5:32. James Jensen got things going with a jumper at 6:24 before Jake Brown drained a three-pointer the next time down the floor. After a Jack Roberts layup, Kizel connected on another triple to stake Middlebury to a 40-34 edge.
Keeping the hot streak going, Brown hit a jumper at 2:46 before Mayer ended a four-plus minute Williams scoreless streak with a trey at 2:33. Roberts answered with another bucket down low before consecutive Kizel triples put the Panthers up 50-37.
Up 11 at the break, Sinnickson padded the Middlebury cushion with a layup at 19:17. Chipping away, the Ephs whittled the lead down to three over the next six-plus minutes. Mike Greenman got the rally started with a three-pointer at 17:47. Mayer then netted four-straight points before an Epley three made it 54-49. After a pair of Merryman free throws, Mayer drove the lane for two before Rooke-Ley hit a pair from the charity stripe to cap off a 14-4 Williams run.
A Brown jumper at 12:21 snapped a nearly five-minute Middlebury field goal drought, sparking an 8-2 spurt that had the Panthers on top 64-55. Coming right back, Williams scored nine unanswered in 2:58, pulling even with just under seven and a half minutes remaining in regulation.
Still knotted at 70-70 inside of the three minute mark, Mayer ducked into the paint and converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way to give Williams its first lead since the 6:24 mark of the first half. With Middlebury pulling back even on a Sinnickson free throw and Jensen jumper, Rooke-Ley drove baseline and drew a foul before knocking down a pair of go-ahead free throws with just 40 seconds on the clock. Corralling a Kizel missed three on the other end, Robinson helped complete the Eph comeback, going 3-of-4 from the line down the stretch to seal the victory.
Despite their second-half woes, the Panthers still managed to shoot 47.5 percent (28-of-59) from the field and 48.0 percent (12-of-25) from three. Shooting 41.1 percent (23-of-56) from the floor, the Ephs connected on 40.7 percent (11-of-27) of their three-pointers and 80.8 percent (21-of-26) of their free throws.