WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – The Williams College Ephs (22-3) defeated the Tufts University Jumbos (13-12) 87-77 in overtime, in an exciting NESCAC tournament quarterfinal match this afternoon and Chandler Gymnsaium.
The teams were evenly matched from the tip-off, but a trey by Jumbo Kwame Firempong and a floater by Stephen Haladyna gave Tufts an early 11-6 lead six minutes into the half. Though Williams answered with a finish in the paint by Mike Mayer, the Jumbos would maintain this slim lead for the next several minutes.
Neither team was able to gain an advantage until the 6-minute mark, when the Jumbos extended their lead to seven off a pair of finishes by Hunter Sabety and a steal by Tarik Smith that resulted in two Ben Smith free throws. However, a three-pointer from the corner by Eph Mike Greenman stopped the Jumbo run in its tracks. A free throw and then a trey by Daniel Wohl tied the game up at 22 with 3:15 remaining. A layup by Mike Mayer gave Williams the lead and forced a Tufts timeout.
Tufts recovered coming out of the timeout and kept the margin within three. An alley-oop to Hunter Sabety and a jumper by Stephen Haladyna gave the Jumbos a four-point lead with only 16 seconds left, but Eph Ryan Kilcullen nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to one going into the half, 32-31.
Both teams' big men led their teams in scoring, Hunter Sabety for the Jumbos with 12 and Mike Mayer for the Ephs with 9.
The second half began with a flurry of offense. The Ephs struck first with a finish in the lane by Mike Mayer on the first possession. The Jumbos answered with a jumper and then strong finish in the paint by Hunter Sabety to put Tufts up by three. A trey by Mike Mayer tied it back up at 36 with 18:29 remaining in the game.
Neither team was able to get an edge on the other for much of the second half; for every bucket one team made, the other always had an answer.
With 3:17 to go, Jumbo Stephen Haladyna nailed a three-pointer, and, after a missed shot by Eph Duncan Robinson, Hunter Sabety was fouled and hit both of his free throws to give Tufts a 4-point lead with two minutes left in the game. A pair of free throws from Eph Mike Mayer cut the lead to two, but Tufts G Kwame Firempong hit a floater that gave the Jumbos a 66-62 lead with 1:10 to go.
A clutch trey for the Ephs by Mike Greenman cut the margin to one point in the final minute of the game, and, following a missed hook shot by Jumbo Hunter Sabety, Greenman hit a fadeaway jumper from the left side to give the Ephs a one-point advantage with 9 seconds to play.
On the other end, Hunter Sabety got the rebound off of a Kwame Firempong miss and was fouled, sending him to the line with 3 seconds in regulation. Sabety hit his first, but was unable to convert his second shot. After Daniel Wohl's half-court buzzer-beater was short, the game went to overtime at 67 apiece.
Eph Taylor Epley took control from the start of the extra period. He opened the overtime with a three-point play, and then hit a pair of free throws to give the Ephs a five point lead. After a pair of free throws apiece from Jumbo Kwame Firempong and Eph Daniel Wohl and a jumper by Jumbo Stephen Haladyna, Epley hit a trey to put the Ephs up by six. Another bucket from Epley and a coast-to-coast layup by Duncan Robinson with 1:27 remaining in overtime sealed the Jumbos' fate. A series of fouls and free throws for both teams followed, with the Eph lead never dropping below four, and the final buzzer rang with the score 87-77.
Eph Mike Mayer led all scorers with 30 points, 21 of which came in the second half, while Taylor Sabety led the Jumbos with 21. Jumbo Ben Ferris also notched a double-double, with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Tufts shot 45% from the field, while Williams hit 49% of their shots.
After the game, Eph head coach Mike Maker said "I didn't think we were at our best offensively today, and you've got to give credit to Tufts. They're very athletic, a physical basketball team, and those are the kinds of teams that give us trouble…but I thought our guys competed as well as we have all year long. WE survive and advance and we move one, but it sure wasn't easy."
Maker went on to call Taylor Epley, who had 10 of the Ephs' first 12 points in OT, "a warrior" and Mike Mayer's 30-point game "terrific." He also drew attention to freshman Mike Greenman's "two big shots that got us to overtime in the first place…terrific."
With the win, Williams advances to the NESCAC Semifinal round, where they will play Middlebury at Amherst next Saturday.