Middlebury looked to take off early, as three-pointers from Jack Daly and Matt St. Amour on the Panthers' first two shots gave them an early lead and riled up the home crowd in Pepin Gym. Cole Teal was able to answer, however, and the game settled into a slog, with Middlebury maintaining a lead in the mid-single digits.
Halfway through the half, Matt St. Amour intercepted a Williams pass and fed Jake Brown for a fast-break layup to extend the lead to eight, but Cole Teal answered with a three-pointer once again. Matt Folger hit a trey of his own, but a tip-in by Matt Karpowicz followed by yet another long ball by Teal cut the Ephs' deficit to just three with eight minutes to go in the half.
After their first two three-pointers, Middlebury went cold from behind the arc, making just one of their next twelve attempts. The Panthers held a slight edge in both rebounding and turnover margin, but, statistically, the teams were largely even going into the second half, with the exception of Williams's 35.3% mark from three-point compared with Middlebury's 21.4%.
As if to respond to his team's poor long-distance shooting in the first half, Jack Daly sank a long trey to open the second half, retaking a slim Middlebury lead. Kyle Scadlock answered, but a combination of aggressive defense by the Panthers and three straight missed three-point attempts kept the Ephs scoreless for the next three and a half minutes. James Heskett snapped the drought with a trey to pull the Ephs back within two, and a couple minutes later, a Mike Greenman triple tied the game back up at 49 with 14:11 to play.
Heskett built on his offensive contributions with two steals in quick succession, and, thanks in part to this stout defense form Williams, the cold snap transferred to the Panthers. Capitalizing on Middlebury's shooting woes, Matt Karpowicz converted a three-point play, Cole Teal sunk his fourth three-pointer of the game, and Dan Aronowitz scored on a cut to the basket to put together an 8-0 run for the Ephs.
The teams traded buckets, keeping the margin at eight points for the next few minutes, when Kyle Scadlock hit a killer trey, seemingly locking up the game for Williams as the clock dropped into the final two minutes. Middlebury, however, was not done. Capitalizing on a series of missed shots by Williams and employing their trapping defense with great effectiveness, the Panthers successfully drew several fouls and hit their free throws, racking up seven unanswered points solely from the charity stripe.
Now leading by only two with 38 seconds left, Mike Greenman miraculously escaped a trap in the back court and eventually got the ball to Kyle Scadlock, who was intentionally fouled with 21 seconds to play. Scadlock who had only missed one free throw in his last 27 attempts, missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving Middlebury a chance to complete the improbable comeback. Jack Daly drove hard to the lane but was unable to draw the foul he clearly wanted, and Matt Folger couldn't get a second-chance jumper to fall with ten seconds remaining.
App had high praise for both teams after the game, saying, "Everybody on both teams went out there and competed at a high level, and that's the kind of game you expect at this point in the season. Guys on both teams were making plays, and we were just lucky to come out on top.
With the win, Williams thus accounts for two of Middlebury's four losses on the year, having beaten the Panthers by 24 points in the regular season; the Ephs now lead the all-time series between the teams 84-27.
Jack Daly led all scorers with a career-high 23 points for the Panthers, while reigning NESCAC Player of the Year Matt St. Amour added 14 points after hitting only one of his nine three-point attempts on the night. Jake Brown added 10 points, while Eric McCord was Middlebury's top rebounder with nine boards.
Kyle Scadlock led the Ephs with 14 points, trailed closely by Cole Teal and Bobby Casey, both of whom notched four three-pointers on the night for 12 points apiece. Senior Daniel Aronowitz registered his fifth double-double on the year, pulling down 12 rebounds to complement his 10 points.
"The team has really been thinking that we had a chance at this all year," Coach App said. "They've kept the faith and have understood what it would take to get us here, and that's thanks to our upperclassmen, who have continued to lead us and keep the group focused. They've earned this, and as coaches, we're thrilled for them."
Williams will travel to Salem, Virginia, to face off against Augustana (Ill.) on Friday, March 17 at 7:30 PM.