WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. - It was a fitting end to the career at Chandler Gymnasium for seven seniors tonight, as Williams men’s basketball defeated Brandeis 71-57 to advance to Final Four in Salem, Virginia next Friday. Senior co-captain, NESCAC Player of the Year, and Josten’s Trophy winner Blake Schultz led the way for the Ephs with 29 points and 7 rebounds, as the team pushed its record to 29-1 on the season and its already record breaking in-season win streak to 20 games.
It is only the third time that the Ephs have won 29 games in a season, and it is fifth trip to the Final Four in the team’s history – the most of any team in the country. The Ephs are 5-3 in their history at the Final Four in Salem; the team came in third in 1997 and 1998, claimed the NCAA title in 2003 and came in second in 2004. The team is now 29-9 in NCAA tournament play.
Williams shot 46 percent from the field for the game. James Wang was the Ephs’ second leading scorer with 18 points, while Troy Whittington came up huge for the Ephs, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 boards for his first double-double of the season while also blocking a game-high 4 shots. Wang and Schultz, with 518 and 570 points, respectively, are the first pair of Ephs both to score more than 500 points in a season since Micha el Nogelo ’98 (599) and Matt Hunt ’99 (530) in 1998.
The Ephs were able to hold Brandeis to 35 percent shooting from the field. Anthony Roberson and Kenny Small led the Judges’ offense with 14 and 11 points, respectively, and Terrel Hollins scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
The team will take on Guilford next Friday at 5:00 PM.
The teams traded baskets as the game began, but Brandeis soon pulled ahead, taking a 21-12 lead with 11:11 to play in the half as Williams could only find the basket on five of thirteen early attempts. The nine-point deficit was the largest the Ephs had faced in the post-season, including the NESCAC tournament.
Then the Ephs started to find their offensive rhythm and fought their way back into the game, as the team went on a 14-4 run and took its first lead of the game with 4:41 to play after Nate Robertson knocked down two free throws to make the score 26-25 in favor the Ephs. Wang capped the Eph run with a jumper in the lane to make the score 28-25, and the teams traded baskets the rest of the way; Williams entered the break with a 35-32 lead.
Williams barely outshot Brandeis in the firsthalf, 46 percent to 44 percent. Wang and Schultz scored 12 and 10 apiece for the Ephs as Schultz shot a perfect 4-4 from the field. All seven Judges that saw the floor scored for Brandeis, with Tyrone Hughes leading the way with 8 points.
“They gave us punch early – they were a good team and they came out strong,” said Schultz. “We stepped up on defense and our post offense was huge. That’s really what helped us come back.”
It looked as though the game would go down to the wire as the second twenty minutes opened. Brandeis retook the lead 41-39 on a Hollins layup 4:41 into the half. The Judges stretched their lead to three, 44-41, with 13:33 to play in the game after Roberson was fouled making a layup and hit the follow-free throw, before the Ephs retook the lead, 46-44 on a three from Schultz and a layup from Wang with 11 minutes to play. Kenny Small then came down and hit a three for the Judges to make the score 47-46.
It was the last time the Judges would lead in the game, as a tip in, layup, and free throw from Whittington in quick succession gave Williams a 51-47 lead with 8:23 to play. Schultz free throws soon stretched the Eph lead to 53-47, but Brandeis was able to come back to within one, 53-52, with 5:30 left on the clock.
The teams then traded a basket each, before Wang came down and finished a traditional-three point play to make the score 58-54 with 3:31 to play. The Eph defense then stepped up, holding the Judges to three points over the final 3:30; the Ephs iced the game behind Schultz, who scored 8 of the team’s final 14 points and went 6-6 from the line for Williams to claim the 71-57 victory.
Hollins scored 7 of his 9 points in the second half for the Judges, and Roberson had 8 in the half.
Williams kept up its 46 percent shooting in the second, but held Brandeis to a spectacular 27 percent shooting from the field. Schultz scored 17 of his points in the second, and finished the game 10-10 from the line and 8-13 from the field. Whittington was the Ephs’ second leading scorer in the half with 9 points.
“We were able to pull away because of our defensive intensity and because we paid attention to the scouting report,” said Schultz. “We struggled with that sometimes this season, and I think we really stepped up at the end of the floor. It’s a testament to how hard and gritty we can play.”
For the seven seniors on the team, the game was particularly emotional. That group includes Schultz, as well as co-captain Joe Geoghegan, Alex Rubin, Ethan Timmins-Schiffman, Will Hardy, Mike Moorestein, and Charlie Cates. Geoghegan had 4 points and 7 rebounds on the game, and Timmins-Schiffman also had a bucket.
“We were all sitting around talking about it after practice – these were our last games in Chandler this weekend,” said Schultz. “It was unbelievable to play in front of such a great crowd of friends and family. We’ve had a lot of great moments in this gym, but this was by far the best. It’s unbelievable to go out with that feeling.”
“Obviously I couldn’t be prouder for all of our kids in our program and for the institution; we’re really excited about representing it down Salem,” said Williams head coach Mike Maker. “We genuinely appreciate the community support, and particularly the support of the student body. And once again, I couldn’t be prouder of our senior class – their talent, leadership and character has carried us all season.”