WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Despite going down by as many as seventeen to start the game, the Williams men's basketball team defeated Little Three rival Wesleyan (7-7, 1-1 NESCAC) 74-65 tonight to stay perfect in NESCAC play. The Ephs (13-1, 3-0 NESCAC) ended the first half with a 22-0 run to get back in and take control of the game. Williams had won the two teams' first match-up 56-48 in November. That game did not count towards league play.
The Cardinals were off to the early lead with their pretty long ball game as well as some nice finishes in the paint. They pushed the lead to double digits behind a three-pointer from center Mike Callaghan who was by himself up top. On the next Wesleyan possession, Shasha Brown finished a jumper to make it 20-8 with 13:18 on the clock. The Ephs were forced to use their first timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Ephs were unable to finish. Callaghan finished in the paint down the other end off of a beautiful pass from Avery Robinson. The Ephs finally ended their scoring drought when Taylor Epley swooshed a three ball from the top right part of the arc to make it 23-11 with 11:21 to play in the half.
After Wesleyan got some points from the charity stripe, Epley continued to carry the Ephs with a drive to the hoop for two. He was fouled but was unable to convert the three-point play. A couple possessions later, Derek Beresford finished for Wesleyan from behind the arc despite falling to the floor to make it 30-13.
The Ephs responded with a 22-0 run that would take them to the end of the half. Nate Robertson started the run with a finish inside before Daniel Wohl made a transition three off of a pass from Epley to cut the lead to twelve. After a Wesleyan timeout, James Klemm sunk a three from the top of the arc to cut the lead to nine with six minutes on the clock. On the next Eph possession, Epley finished a jump shot to make it 30-23. The Ephs continued to contain the Cardinals on the defensive end, and Klemm made both ends of a one-and-one. The Ephs then forced a turnover, and Klemm made it count as he nailed a three ball from a step outside the arc. He then tied the game at 30-30 with a fade-away jumper before he hit yet another three from the top of the key to give the Ephs their first lead of the game at 33-30 with 3:07 to play. Robertson then finished a drive to the hoop to keep the Eph run alive. With the Cardinals unable to score on their final possession, the Ephs were able to hold them scoreless for the final 8:06 of the half. Klemm score 19 points in the opening frame.
Out of the break, both teams had hot hands and traded baskets at both ends of the floor. The Cardinals, however, eventually cut the Eph lead to one behind a jumper by Brown. Neither team converted for several possessions, but Michael Mayer pushed the Eph lead back to three at 50-47 with a pair of free throws with 11:26 on the clock. Wesleyan, however, refused to go away. Robinson hit a three as the shot clock wound down to tie the game back up at 50 apiece. Wesleyan seized the lead following a missed opportunity by the Ephs with a finish inside by Glen Thomas, but Epley responded down the other end for the Ephs with a runner in the paint. Mayer then scored his first basket of the game with a drive to the hoop to give the Ephs back the lead with just over eight to play.
After trading hoops for several minutes, the Ephs pushed the lead to eight with two minutes to play on a three by Epley. By himself up ahead after Wesleyan went for a steal in the backcourt, he then swooshed another long ball from the top right portion of the arc to make the lead eleven with 1:41 on the clock. The double-digit lead proved too much for the Cardinals as the Ephs walked off the court with another league victory.
Klemm scored 21 points tonight for the Ephs on 6-for-7 shooting. Epley also had 21 points. Wohl was the only other Eph in double digits with 18 points. The Ephs shot 51.9% from the floor on the night.
Brown led the way tonight for Wesleyan with 21 points. Callaghan added 18 and narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds. Thomas had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. Wesleyan was 37.5% from the field.
Said Coach Mike Maker after the game, "I'm very proud of our guys. I'd like to say we dug ourselves a hole, but that's not true. Wesleyan played awfully well to start the game. They were clicking from all cylinders and shooting a high percentage. I think the difference was two things: We changed the complexion of the game by going zone, and then our kids' competitiveness. They have a will to win. We have really good players that fed off the energy of a great crowd, our best crowd of the season. We appreciated the fan base tonight."
Added Maker about his three leading scorers, "I've said it many times, James is a prolific shooter. He's a tough guard. He's a senior. He's played in a lot of big games and taken a lot of big shots. Nothing changes. If there is a better player in the league [than Taylor Epley], I'd like to know who it is right now. He's playing fantastic on both ends. He guards opponents' best player, and he also scores the most points for us. Daniel Wohl really stepped up also. He's the only underclassman we're playing. He's very talented. We got a great effort from him tonight."
Finally, he commented on the importance of the win: "Every game we play at Williams is important. We felt this home stretch was especially important because we have six of seven coming up on the road. Our league this year – and every year – is one of the premiere leagues in all of Division III. It has such great balance this year. Everybody can beat everybody, so you have to be at your best, or you're not going to win."
The Ephs return to the court tomorrow to take on Connecticut College at 2:00 PM.