WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- The Williams College men's basketball team defeated the Virginia Wesleyan Marlins tonight in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. The Ephs, who are tournament hosts, won 79-73 to advance to the Elite Eight against Amherst tomorrow evening. The Marlins ended their season at 25-5 while the Ephs moved to 28-2 on the year.
After the Ephs started off the game behind eight straight points on 4-for-4 shooting from Troy Whittington, the Marlins rallied back. At the 12:20 mark, Ed Roberts swooshed a 3-ball from the top left to cut the Eph lead to four. Just over a minute later, DJ Woodmore drove to the hoop to cut the lead to two. Behind a 3-pointer from Tre' Ford and a hoop from Chris Teasley, the Marlins took their first lead of the game at 16-15 with 9:23 to play.
After Virginia Wesleyan pushed its lead to six behind a long three from Teasley, the Ephs were forced to take their first timeout with 7:50 on the clock. Three minutes later, James Wang made himself known when he drove by his defender and finished for two. He was fouled on the play and made the resulting free throw to cut the lead down to five.
The Marlins, however, responded. With 2:44 to play, Woodmore had a breakaway off an Eph turnover. He made the layup and was fouled; he made the resulting free throw to push the lead back to eight. With just under a minute to play, Nate Robertson had a 3-point play of his own behind a layup and free throw. With 30 seconds on the clock, though, Donald Vaughn responded with a hoop from just above the foul line to push the Marlin lead to 34-27 going into the half.
Whittington led the Ephs in the first half with 12 points while nine Marlins contributed to their offense.
After Wang started off the second half with a three, it looked like the Ephs might go on a run, but the Marlins continued to shine. Led by two threes from Ford and Woodmore, the Marlins kept the lead at seven. With 15:25 to play, James Klemm hit a long ball of his own from the top left behind a screen to cut the lead to two. With the Ephs stuck down two, Teasley drove to the hoop for a bucket, but Whittington responded with a great offensive rebound and hoop at 13:34. The Marlins rallied as Chris Astorga nailed a downtown 3-pointer and Vaughn dunked a put back just over a minute later to push the lead back to seven.
With 11:40 to play, Wang hit a left baseline jumper; Brian Emerson and Whittington hit four free throws between them to cut the lead to one. Unable to take the lead, though, Ford responded yet again for the Marlins when he hit a long ball from the top right with 9:28 to play. Woodmore added another 3-pointer for the Marlins from the top right as well.
From that point forward, though, it was all Ephs. First-year Hayden Rooke-Ley drove baseline and paused before going up; he was fouled but was able to finish and make the free throw with 7:49 to play. Just under a minute later, he made a hoop while falling down to cut the lead to two. After a foul shot from the Marlins, Wang made both opportunities of a 1-and-1 to cut the lead back to one for the Ephs. The Ephs were finally able to take the lead in classic fashion – Robertson drove to the hoop and passed it off to Whittington, who dunked to give the Ephs their first lead since the 5:51 of the first half.
Said Whittington after the game, "The entire game we knew if we played our game we would take care of business, so when we were down it was just: 'keep it close, get some stops.' The dunk gave us the lead, but I didn't care that much; we just needed to get a stop on defense. We could definitely feel the momentum changing; we started to find our rhythm. That's why you play all 40 minutes of the game."
The Ephs put the game away behind a 3-pointer apiece from Wang and Harlan Dodson. Although the Marlins played tough until the final whistle, they did not have enough to overcome the Ephs' late run.
Said Coach Mike Maker about the second half and the Eph run, "We made some minor adjustments at halftime, but they do a great job of guarding the arc, one of the best in the country. We can win in a variety of ways, we don't have to win on threes. Pick your poison; we can shoot or we can drive and give the ball to Troy inside."
Said Marlin head coach David Macedo, "I thought it was a tale of two halves. I do believe it was a great game with a great atmosphere. A lot of our team grew up today. Williams made some big plays in important times in the second half. We played good D all game but couldn't get stops down the stretch; hats off to them. "
Leading the way tonight for the Ephs was Whittington with 28 points. Wang was the only other Eph in double digits with 16. As a whole, the Ephs shot 43.4% from the field..
Teasley led the way for the Marlins with 17 while Woodmore and Ford added 13 and 11 respectively. The Marlins shot 41.5% from the field.
Said Wang after the game, "It was a little frustrating; the kind of shots that normally go in for us didn't. Obviously they were very aggressive and good defensively, but as we went into the locker room we had a quiet confidence knowing that we didn't play great in the first half. Coach told me we have to take it one possession at a time and down the stretch, we played every possession like the last."
Said Coach Maker after the game, "The place was electric tonight. I think it says a lot about our players and the type of young men they are and the community that we are a part of. We fed off the energy. The game plan was to get the ball to Troy early and often; he was dominating the game. He got two fouls that changed the complexion, and they got on a nice run. I told you guys that Harlan was going to make big shots, and he did tonight, and he's a big presence on the defensive side. Troy was a warrior. James had to guard the freshman of the year in the ODAC. We've been here before; we love playing in Chandler; it should be a zoo tomorrow."
The Ephs will face arch rival Amherst tomorrow evening at 7:00 in Chandler Gymnasium. The winner of the matchup will earn a trip to the Final Four. Tomorrow night's game promises to be one for the ages as the Ephs and Lord Jeffs split this year's series with each team winning at home.
Tickets will go on sale at 5:30 p.m. in the lobby of Chandler Gym on Saturday.