WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- The Ephs defeated the Bowdoin Polar Bear 82 to 62 in the first round of the NESCAC tournament today. The win moves the Ephs – who are the first-ranked team in the tournament – to 24-1 on the season while Bowdoin, the eight-seed, finishes the season at 14-10.
Coach Mike Maker said after the game that his team looked at this game like any other: "I think our guys value the opportunity to play at any time of the year. Obviously, there's added significance because it's the NESCAC tournament, and we'd like to pursue another NESCAC title, but it's really about valuing the opportunity every game you play and playing to the best of your ability, and I thought our guys did that."
The game opened with two steals from Will Hanley in the first 1:10. Following the turnovers, the Ephs started to bring their offensive game. With the score at 12-11, Taylor Epley hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 11:21 to play. The 3-pointer was the fifth in a streak of baskets from behind the arc that the Ephs started the game on – Harlan Dodson, James Wang, Hayden Rooke-Ley, and Jordan Mickens also each had one. Troy Whittington followed up the long ball with a hoop from under the basket to push the Eph lead to six – the largest of the game so far – and force the second Polar Bear timeout. Out of the timeout, Epley hit another 3-ball, but Matt Mathias swooshed one of his own to keep the lead at six.
When the Ephs pushed their lead to double digits, Bowdoin was forced to use its third timeout. Out of the break, Hanley had a beautiful spin move that ended in a hoop. The Ephs found a momentum jump when Whittington blocked a shot at the 7:15 mark; less than two minutes later, he added another block in transition. At the 5:25 mark, Wang picked for Epley just outside the arc; the first-year sunk his third 3-pointer of the half from the top right as two defenders struggled to get around Wang's screen. Hanley, however, responded with another classic spin move to keep the Ephs' lead at 12. With just under four minutes to play, the Polar Bears cut the lead to 10 behind a drive-to-the-hoop from Ryan O'Connell. The Ephs finished the half with two consecutive length-of-the-floor drives from Wang to push the lead to 16. They entered the locker room with the 44-26 lead.
The Polar Bears came out of the break intent on cutting into the Eph lead. Following a Whittington hoop to open the half, Randy DeFeo hit a three from the top of the arc. Maximilian Staiger came up with a huge block, and Justin Nowell had a nice finish at the 18:32 mark to cut the lead to 15. The Ephs, however, continued to rely on their 3-point shooting, which proved too much for the Polar Bears. At the 17:03 mark, Dodson swooshed a long ball from the right corner, and Wang added another from the top left less than a minute later. Determined to hang on, however, the Polar Bears got a 3-pointer of their own from DeFeo off of a nice offensive rebound by Hanley. The Ephs' offensive power proved too much, though, as their highlights came behind two dunks from Whittington – one an alley-oop off of a pass from Wang with 14:53 to play and the other a left-handed dunk eight minutes later. Both teams continued to fight until the final whistle when the Ephs found their second victory of the season against the Polar Bears.
The Ephs' defense was key today; said Coach Maker, "Well again, we're ranked second in the country in defensive field-goal percentage. I'm very proud of that stat. We have intelligent players who are committed to team defense and pay attention to personnel and concepts. We like to run and fast break and play with a lot of possessions; you can't do that unless you guard and rebound. We're working very, very hard to take care of that area so that we can play the way we want to play."
Leading the way for the Polar Bears today was DeFeo with 14 points. The only senior on the Bowdoin roster, he received a standing ovation from the Bowdoin fans as he went to the bench with 2:23 to play in his final collegiate game. The Polar Bears shot 35.2% on the day.
For the Ephs, Whittington and Wang each netted 14 points. Williams shot 53.2% on the day.
After the game, Coach Maker commented on his team's balanced scoring today, ""We talked about [balanced scoring]. I just got done talking to our guys about that. We're more difficult to defend when we have balance. Our players, our staff, and I think, our opponents realize that we have two elite players in Troy and James. Often it's pick your poison, but when we're able to distribute the ball the way we did today and attack with different people, we're difficult to guard. We had 20 assists on 33 baskets, and as a coach, you can't ask for more than that."
The Ephs continue their postseason play on Saturday against Trinity at 2:00. In the second semi-final, Amherst will play Middlebury at 4:00.