WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Top-seed and defending conference champion Williams College will have a shot at winning a fifth title on Sunday following the Ephs' 79-69 victory over fourth-seeded Trinity in the semifinals of the 2011 NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship on Saturday at Chandler Gymnasium. Williams, at 25-1, will face Middlebury, who came from behind to defeat Amherst in the second semi-final game.
The Ephs and Bantams battled from opening tipoff. The two teams traded baskets until Jordan Mickens stole the ball with 13:35 to play. On the resulting offensive possession, James Wang dribbled baseline and was fouled on the way up. He made both the layup and the resulting free throw to push the Eph lead to four. Nate Robertson then recorded a steal of his own with 11:49 to play and took the ball the length of the court and was fouled. He hit both free throws to push the Ephs' lead to six, the largest of the game thus far for either team.
Trinity, however, was quick to respond with its game from behind the arc. Mick Distasio hit a 3-pointer, and when Harlan Dodson responded with one for the Ephs from the left corner, the Bantams added two more: Adam Skaggs hit one from the top-of-the-key and Ian Fels banked one in with just over ten minutes to play to cut the Eph lead to two. When the Ephs rallied to push their lead back to six, Brian Ford swooshed yet another long ball for the Bantams from the top-of-the-key with 8:48 to play; Brian Emerson responded with one of his own for the Ephs with 6:30 to go. With just under five left in the half, Distasio added his second 3-pointer of the half and Ford made a layup off of an inbound play a minute later to cut the Eph lead to one.
The Ephs did not panic, though, and continued to play their game through the end of the half even after point guard Robertson was forced to leave the game with an injury after a hard foul. With just under a minute left, Wang knocked down a long ball from the right corner to push the Eph lead to six; going into the break, the Ephs led 42-36.
Wang and Troy Whittington were both in double digits for the Ephs in the first half with 10 points and 13 points respectively. Ford had 12 points for the Bantams in the opening 20 minutes.
After the game, Wang commented on how different the battle was without Robertson, "You can't replace Nate Robertson in the back court. He takes so much pressure off of me in the backcourt… [not having him] changed the way our offense ran. I had to step back and be more of a facilitator and try to make our offense run."
The second half started as a defensive battle. Harlan Dodson and Whittington each made his presence known with a block on the opening possession of the half. Just under three minutes later, Eric Dean stole the ball for the Bantams; on the resulting possession, Luke Macdougall had a beautiful spin move that resulted in a bucket for Trinity.
The Ephs stayed in control until with 13:35 to play, Jared Pimm dribbled the ball to the top-of-the-key and swooshed a 3-pointer to cut their lead to one. Williams was forced to call a timeout.
Said Coach Mike Maker about what allowed the Ephs to come out of the timeout and take control of the game, "It's not what the coach says [during a timeout]. I have really good players, and they have a lot of pride, and we have a lot of ability. It's not about me; it's about them. When you allow good talent the freedom to express it and to use it individually and collectively, good things happen, and that's what our guys did today. I'm really proud of them today because it was a hard fought contest and it was a physical game, and I thought our guys responded favorably."
Out of the timeout, Whittington came up with a huge block with 12:55 to play. From that point forward, he carried the Ephs on his shoulders. With 8:30 to play, he hit both chances of a one-and-one opportunity to push the Eph lead back to five. After hitting a bucket under the basket, he stole the ball and took it the length of the court and finished with a two-handed dunk with 7:16 to play, pushing the Eph lead to seven and giving the Ephs the momentum.
On the following Eph possession, Whittington was fouled on his way up; he made the layup and the free throw. With 6:00 to play, he backed down and finished to push the Eph lead to 12, the largest so far in the game.
Whittington commented after the game, "I did feel the momentum changing [during the run]. Because we have so many weapons, at any point in time we can explode and open up a run. With that said, the other team could open up a run [too]; they're a really good 3-point shooting team, and Coach always says the 3-point line makes any lead in the game trivial."
Whittington was quick, however, to point out that his power was not the only thing behind the Ephs' run, "I don't really ever feel the need to take over. When you take over, it implies that your team isn't competent enough to do it by themselves. We have, like Coach says, a lot of weapons and anyone could go off. It wasn't really me thinking I had to take over but before the game, Coach told us last game they played one-on-one in the interior, and they continued to play one-on-one, and [the opportunities] surfaced."
The Ephs continued to control the game for the rest of play, but the Bantams fought until the end. Pimm swooshed a 3-pointer from the top left and after Whittington added yet another layup, Fels swooshed another long ball from the top right. The late run, however, was not enough, and the Ephs walked away with the victory and a trip to the NESCAC title game.
Leading the way today with 31 points was Whittington. Wang added 23 for the Ephs. Both took 16 free throw attempts and shot 11 and 14 from the line respectively. The Ephs shot 47.7% today from the field.
Ford led the way for the Bantams with 20 points. Macdougall added 14. Trinity shot 38.1% from the field.
After the game, Trinity head coach James Cosgrove commented on the difference in today's game: "I thought it was a hard fought game. We played very [well]. I think the disparity at the free throw line hurt us (Williams had 33 points from the free throw line and Trinity had 11."
Coach Cosgrove was happy with how his team, who finished its season at 14-12, battled today especially relative to the last game which Williams won 86-60: "I just think we were more ready and battled a little better and [were] a little bit more physical [than last time]. They earned all of their shots a little bit better this time."
Coach Mike Maker was proud of his team's efforts as well: "I thought it was a hard fought contest where we showed our toughness and our character. Down the stretch, I thought we guarded with discipline, and our poise surfaced when we needed it most."
Coach Maker referred to today's matchup as a "street fight" and said, "I think we can win a variety of ways. We can win in a street fight. We can win shooting threes. We can win by guarding if our 3-point shooting abandons us. We have a lot of weapons, and a lot of good players and a lot of depth, and I thought that showed today."
The Ephs and Panthers will face off at 12:00 in Chandler Gymnasium tomorrow.