AMHERST, MA – The second-seeded Williams College Ephs (23-3) survived a tight game against the third-seeded Middlebury College Panthers (17-9) in the NESCAC Semifinals, winning 78-75.
Middlebury jumped ahead off the tip to a 4-0 lead, but Williams was able to reel the Panthers in with a layup by Michael Mayer and two free throws by Daniel Aronowitz. After that, the teams traded buckets, keeping the score close.
Williams took their first lead with 14:47 remaining, but Middlebury held the Ephs' advantage to no more than four as the first half progressed. The teams traded buckets in a fast-paced game until a transition trey by Panther Joey Kizel put Middlebury up by two, 30-28, and forced an Eph timeout with 7:19 left in the half.
Coming out of the timeout, Williams answered immediately with a three-pointer by Ryan Kilcullen to take back the lead for Williams. Another Eph three, this time by Hayden Rooke-Ley, put the Ephs up 34-30, but Middlebury embarked on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes, featuring seven points from Jake Brown and another three-pointer from Joey Kizel. With 2:46 left in the half, Eph Michael Mayer broke the Panthers' streak with a three-point shot, cutting the lead to 5. However, a finish in the paint by Jack Roberts and then a three ball by Kizel put Middlebury up by double digits, 47-37, with 1:38 to go. Another Kizel trey and a second-chance layup by Eph Michael Mayer set the score for the half, 50-39.
Panther Joey Kizel led all scorers at the half with 19 points, including five three-pointers, while Michael Mayer led the Ephs with 12. In the first half, Middlebury shot a very impressive 71.4% from behind the arc, compared to a solid 44.4% for the Ephs.
Middlebury struck first in the second half, with a jump shot by Dylan Sinnickson to extend the Panthers' lead to 13. Eph Mike Greenman was able to answer with a trey, but a layup by Jake Nidenburg brought the lead back to twelve. A finish down low and then a pair of free throws from Mayer cut the lead to eight. A three-pointer on the right side by Taylor Epley brought the Ephs to within five points and forced a Middlebury timeout, with 15:02 remaining in the game.
The Ephs were able to hold the Middlebury lead to around five out of the timeout, and that is where the margin hovered for the next several minutes. However, the Panthers' three-point shooting perked up it ears again at around the ten-minute mark. Treys by Hunter Merryman and Joey Kizel extended the lead to nine, but Daniel Wohl answered with a three-pointer of his own to bring the margin back to six, 64-58, with 9:14 left to play.
The Ephs clawed their way back with free throws from Hayden Rooke-Ley and Michael Mayer, and a 2-2 showing from Mayer with 7:27 remaining tied the game at 64. The game stayed knotted for the next few minutes, with each team always having an answer for the other.
A layup by Michael Mayer and then a 1-for-2 performance from the free throw line gave Williams their first lead of the half with 2:29 left, 73-70. After a foul shot by Dylan Sinnickson and a tough jumper by James Jensen, the game was tied at 73 with under a minute left in the game.
Eph Hayden Rooke-Ley hit a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left, and, after an air ball by Panther Joey Kizel, Duncan Robinson was fouled with 13 seconds on the clock. He converted one of his two shots, but Joey Kizel was fouled on the other end and sunk both of his attempts, cutting the lead back to one. Robinson was then fouled immediately off the inbounds and hit both of his shots to bring the Williams lead back up to three. Joey Kizel tried for the buzzer-beater but couldn't make it go, and time expired with the final score 78-75.
Eph Michael Mayer led all scorers with 27 points, while Joey Kizel led the Panthers with 24 points. Middlebury shot 47.5% from the field, while Williams hit 41.1% of their shots. In addition, Williams only allowed the Panthers 10 free throw attempts, while the Ephs made 21 of their 26 attempts.
After the game, Eph head coach Mike Maker said: "Once again, we were faced with a double digit deficit at halftime against a very good team, but you've got to credit our guys. They rolled up their sleeves and put together an unbelievable defensive effort in the second half."
Coach Maker also said that the team is "very excited to be able to represent the school" in the NESCAC Championship Game. "We'll play with a lot of heart and give it our best effort."
The Williams Ephs will face the top-seeded Amherst College Lord Jeffs at Amherst in the NESCAC Championship Game on Sunday at 12:00.