AMHERST, MA – The Williams men's basketball team will advance to the NESCAC championship game after defeating Middlebury (22-3, 8-2 NESCAC) 87-80 today in overtime. The Ephs (23-3,9-1 NESCAC) defeated Middlebury in the regular-season matchup 64-63. Williams will take on Amherst tomorrow; the Lord Jeffs defeated Tufts 80-64 in today's earlier semi-finals game.
The start of the first half was a back-and-forth game, but the Ephs started to take control of the game down 22-21 with just over seven minutes on the clock. Daniel Wohl went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe, and James Klemm knocked down a long ball to give the Ephs the four-point lead. Peter Lynch responded with a finish in the paint for the Panthers, but Wohl quickly finished a long ball of his own to put the Ephs up 29-24. On the next Eph possession, Taylor Epley pulled down an offensive rebound before putting up a jumper to push the Eph lead to seven.
Middlebury stayed in the game with a three-ball from Joey Kizel. Nate Robertson put up a 1-for-2 performance from the line, and Sean Hoffmann threw down a dunk to keep the lead at seven. With 42 seconds on the clock, Jake Wolfin hit a three pointer before Wohl finished the half with one for the Ephs. Williams entered the locker room with the 37-30 lead.
The Panthers started out of the break with some momentum. Kizel went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe, and Jack Roberts finished inside to cut the Eph lead to four. Klemm, however, hit yet another three for the Ephs. Nolan Thompson responded with a bucket from behind the arc for Middlebury.
The Panthers continued to fight to take control, and they finally took the lead when Lynch finished inside and was fouled. He converted the three-point play to make it 49-48 with 12:43 left in the game. Neither team was able to pull away for the rest of the half, and the game looked like it would come down to the final couple of minutes. With 2:58 on the clock, Wohl finished inside to give the Ephs the 72-69 lead. Lynch finished a little jumper in the paint to pull within one, but Robertson scored for the Ephs. James Jensen and Epley traded lay-ups before Jake Wolfin hit a huge three from the top-of-the-key to tie the game up at 76-76 with just under a minute to play. The Ephs looked to score off of a lay-up by Wohl, but his attempt was too strong, and the Panthers got the ball back with a ten-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock. Kizel attempted to drive through the lane, but Epley came up with a huge steal for the Ephs. Despite having some time on the clock, Williams was unable to set up a play and did not get a good shot off. The two teams found themselves in overtime for a spot in the NESCAC championship.
Neither team converted on its opening offensive possessions in overtime. The Ephs finally took the lead when John Weinheimer headed to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. He made both free throws. Lynch responded with a lay-up for the Panthers with 2:09 on the clock. Wohl finished in the paint for the Ephs, but Kizel hit a jumper to tie the game up at 80 apiece with 1:23 on the clock. The Ephs pulled away down the stretch with free throws as Mayer went 6-for-8 from the charity stripe and Wohl went 1-for-2. Middlebury did not finish in the final minute, and the Ephs walked away with the victory.
Leading the way for the Ephs tonight was Mayer with 23 points. He also posted 13 rebounds for a double-double. Wohl added 19 for the Ephs. Klemm and Robertson each recorded 14 points while Epley added 13 to round out the double-digit club. Robertson also had eight assists. Williams shot 52.5% from the floor.
Lynch led the Panthers with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Kizel had 19 and Wolfin 11. Wolfin also recorded nine assists. Middlebury was 45.3% from the floor on the night.
Said Coach Mike Maker after the game, "It was an emotional win for us. I told the guys afterwards how proud I was of them and how special of a team I think we are. Outside of maybe the Guilford game in the National Semifinal in 2010, I'm not sure we've played a better game than we did today. We had contributions from so many guys. It was a total team effort. Our guys play with a lot of heart, a lot of basketball intelligence and competitive spirit, and they're a lot of fun to coach."
Said Maker about Wohl, who returned today following a three-game absence due to illness, "Clearly, we're a different basketball team when Daniel Wohl is playing. He's extremely talented and poses matchup problems for other forwards because he plays like a guard. It was nice to see him back and healthy, and I think he gave a shot in the arm to our entire basketball team."
Tomorrow's championship game is set for 12:00 PM.
Looking towards tomorrow, Maker added, "We're excited to be in the championship game for the third time in four years. We're looking forward to an opportunity to play an outstanding Amherst team on [its] home floor. Certainly we are going to have to recharge our battery tonight. You know, I like our basketball team. We're going to have to play extremely well and shoot the ball at the offensive end to give us a chance against the Lord Jeffs tomorrow. We're looking forward to the opportunity."