WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – The Williams men's basketball team defeated the Middlebury Panthers (16-1, 5-1 NESCAC) today 64-63 with a late lay-up from sophomore Daniel Wohl. The Ephs clawed their way back from a late 8-point deficit, down 60-52.
With the win, the Ephs (17-2, 6-0 NESCAC) hand the Panthers their first loss of the year. While Williams is 78-25 against Middlebury all-time, the Panthers had won three games in a row against the Ephs and six of the last ten. The Panthers, however, are just 2-7 in Chandler since 2000. Entering the game, both teams were tied with Amherst for first in the NESCAC rankings. The Ephs will now sit atop the league with the Lord Jeffs, who won their game against Trinity today.
Hard play from both teams resulted in a back-and-forth first half. While the Ephs held the lead for much of the opening frame, the Panthers took back the lead towards the end of the half. With 6:17 on the clock, Hunter Merryman hit two free throws for Middlebury to tie the game up at 27 all. Wohl, however, responded for the Ephs with a beautiful long ball off of a pass from Nate Robertson. Nolan Thompson went 2-for-3 and Joey Kizel 2-for-2 from the free throw line to give Middlebury its first lead of the game since the opening basket with 4:48 left to play. The five free throws started a 14-2 run for the Panthers.
Jack Roberts finished inside off of an offensive rebound to push the Panther lead to 33-30. Wohl broke up the run with a finish in the paint off of a pretty pass from Michael Mayer. Middlebury, however, would not let up as Roberts put in another lay-up to keep the lead at three. With just under five minutes to play in the half Eph head coach Mike Maker was forced to give senior point guard Nate Robertson a breather after he collected his third foul.
The Ephs called a timeout to try to stop the Panther momentum but turned the ball over on their next possession. James Jensen then hit a pair of hoops for the Panthers. On the next Eph possession, Kizel stole the ball and took it the length of the court for two. His hoop gave the Panthers a nine-point lead, the largest of the half, at 41-32.
Down nine late in the first half Maker re-inserted Robertson. "Nate's been our most valuable player since I've been here," said Maker. "It was now or never on getting him back in the game. His basketball IQ is off the charts and he is our leader."
The Ephs, however, refused to go away quietly. Out of a timeout with 1:46 to play, the Ephs scored six straight points to end the half. Mayer went 2-for-2 from the free throw line before Wohl finished on a lay-up. Robertson then also converted both opportunities from the charity stripe to end the half for the Ephs. Middlebury went into the locker room with a 41-38 lead.
"At the half we talked about resiliency," added Maker. "I thought we got a little tired at times and that may have been because of all the traveling we have been doing and that was one of the reason we played so much zone. I don't care if people call us the Syracuse of NESCAC, because we play a good zone and it fits our personnel."
Mayer led all scorers in the first half with 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting. Kizel had 11 for the Panthers.
Out of the break, Middlebury was first on the board with a lay-up from Peter Lynch. The Ephs, however, quickly got on the board themselves with a pair of free throws from Wohl. Sean Hoffmann then threw down a beautiful dunk to give the Ephs some momentum and pull within one. Like the start of the first half, neither team was able to pull away and they traded hoops for much of the half.
Middlebury was able to push the lead to seven with just under ten minutes to play on a put-back by Lynch. The seven-point deficit was the largest of the half for the Ephs thus far, but they responded calmly with a beautiful lob inside from Robertson to Mayer. Mayer finished the play to cut the lead to five. Lynch went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe for the Panthers before Kizel hit both ends of a one-and-one opportunity. Mayer and Robertson continued to carry the Ephs at the other end of the floor with another beautiful connection to cut the lead back to six. After forcing a bad shot in their defensive end on the next Panther possession, though, the Ephs could not convert, and the Panthers continued to hold the lead.
Following a Jensen finish in the paint, the Ephs called a timeout. Out of the break, Robertson fed Hoffmann inside who finished for his second dunk of the game. "Sean Hoffman is a program kid who has waited for his time and he is making the most of it," commented Maker. "I thought his dunks and blocks and athleticism underneath gave us a big spark."
The Ephs then cut the lead to 60-56 behind a lay-up from Robertson. With Thompson wide open at the top left part of the key, though, the Panthers pushed their lead back to seven as he swooshed the three ball. After Robertson and Mayer connected again for the Ephs, they forced a turnover out of bounds, and James Klemm made it count with a pull-up jumper. The Ephs were able to force another turnover on the next possession but were unable to convert.
Back on defense, however, Wohl came up with a huge block, and while the Panthers were able to keep possession, they could not find the hoop. Epley pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled by Lynch. The foul was Lynch's fifth, and the Panthers' leading scorer was forced to leave the game. With the Ephs in the bonus, Epley headed to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. He was able to convert both ends to pull the Ephs within one.
With the shot clock winding down for Middlebury out of a timeout, Mayer came up with a huge steal for the Ephs. Down the other end of the floor, Wohl drove to the hoop to give the Ephs the lead with less than 30 seconds to play. The Panthers had the opportunity for the final possession, when the ball went out of bounds off of an Eph player with 1.6 seconds on the clock. Middlebury inbounded the ball to Merryman well beyond the arc, but his desperation three bounced off the front iron.
Mayer led the way for the Ephs with 24 points. Robertson and Wohl each added 11 for Williams. Robertson also had six assists. The Ephs shot 47.9% from the floor.
Leading the way for the Panthers was Lynch with 16 on 7-for-8 shooting. Kizel had 15 and Jensen 12 for Middlebury, who shot 39.0% from the field.
Asked about Taylor Epley's quiet scoring game, Maker stated, "Credit Nolan Thompson for a great job. He is the best defender in NESCAC, but he can only guard one guy. We have a team full of players who will sacrifice individual stats for the good of the team. Even though he was not scoring today, Taylor was making a contribution."
Maker also noted that Mike Mayer, "playing 32 minutes and scoring 24 points was a great effort considering Mayer is under the weather."
"When the game is on the line I want Nate Robertson to have the ball in his hands because he can drive, dish, and he is just so tough," noted Maker.
The Ephs return to the floor on Tuesday at in a non-conference contest at Southern Vermont. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM.