BRUNSWICK, ME – In the quarterfinal round of the NESCAC tournament, the 2nd-seeded Bowdoin College Polar Bears defeated the seventh-ranked Williams College Ephs by a score of 87-74.
Bowdoin's Lucas Hausman, NESCAC Player of the Week for two weeks running, took off in the second half, scoring 25 points on his way to a game-high 37 points, his third consecutive 30-point game. John Swords, owner of the best field-goal percentage in Division III basketball, failed to miss a field goal, notching 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Both teams came out playing aggressively in an exciting first half that saw Williams make 53% of their three-point attempts and hold Bowdoin to only two shots from the foul line. The first half felt like a battle between John Swords and Eph senior Hayden Rooke-Ley.
The 7-foot tall Swords was unstoppable in the post, considering he had a significant height advantage over any Eph guarding him, while Rooke-Ley caught fire from behind the arc, making six three-pointers and scoring 21 points in the half.
Williams head coach Kevin App was pleased with the first half, saying, "We came out and played a great first half, one of our better halves this season, I think." Coach App also spoke about the difficulties of playing against John Swords: "He played a great game, that may be the most aggressive I've ever seen him play… I thought our guys did a good job getting him to pick up the dribble and control him."
Rooke-Ley's dominant three-point shooting primarily allowed Williams to go into halftime ahead 44-37. Swords led the Polar Bears with 16 points in the half, but, in a presage of his second-half performance, Lucas Hausman also recorded 12 points and three treys.
The second half, however, would belong to Bowdoin. After completely erasing their deficit in the first few minutes of the half. Such a sudden shift in momentum seemed to mess with the Ephs' shooting: Williams only made 28.1% of their shots in the second half.
Williams failed to score for over six minutes in the middle of the half, allowing the Polar Bears to rack up 11 unanswered points and a commanding lead. While clutch three-pointers by Mike Greenman and Ryan Kilcullen at times cut the deficit to a manageable size, Bowdoin continued to play as if a victory was their destiny, converting difficult layups and going to the foul line 30 times just in the second half.
Coach App highlighted the mental aspect of the game when discussing this: "We got some good shots that didn't happen to go in, and I think we started letting that influence our defense; we started thinking too much on offense."
As Williams still struggled to put together a meaningful scoring run, their offensive leader Rooke-Ley fouled out, and trailing by eight with less than two minutes to go, the Ephs began intentionally fouling. Bowdoin rode their ensuing foul shots to a comfortable 87-74 victory.
The Polar Bears outscored the Ephs 50-30 in the second half, and no Williams player had more than 7 points in the half.
Bowdoin finished the game with a 50.9% shooting percentage and 27.8% from three, while Williams made 39% of their shots and a still impressive 41.7% from long distance.
Hayden Rooke-Ley led the Ephs with 28 points, and Ryan Kilcullen and Mike Greenman also contributed double-digit performances. Daniel Wohl, the Ephs' leading scorer, never found his stroke in this game, finishing with just 8 points, though he did register 10 rebounds.
Bowdoin will move on to the conference semifinals, where they will face Amherst next weekend.
With the loss, the Ephs' season is over as a bid to the NCAA tournament is now out of the question. Despite a disappointing final game, Daniel Wohl finishes his career with 1,278 points, making him the 13th-highest scorer in Williams College history. Hayden Rooke-Ley, despite being injured for three weeks in January, finished the year with 394 points (19.7 ppg) and ends his career only one point shy of the 1,000-point mark with 999 career points (34th all-time). In addition, Hayden set a new school record for most three-pointers in a single game with 12 and broke the NCAA Division III for consecutive free throws made in a single season with 67.
After losing their head coach and three leading scorers the previous year (two to graduation and one to transfer), the Ephs dropped their first two games before winning seven straight games until falling to WPI in a tight contest on December 29. Williams went 5-5 against NESCAC opponents in the regular season, though six of those games were decided by less than five points. Perhaps the most memorable game of the year came at home when the Ephs took on arch-rivals Amherst. Trailing by two with less than ten seconds left, Ryan Kilcullen sunk a last-second three-pointer to give Williams a breathtaking 71-70 victory over the Lord Jeffs. On the year, Williams went 15-10.
Seniors Daniel Wohl, Hayden Rooke-Ley, and Ryan Kilcullen were "invaluable" according to coach App. "You always want to leave a program and a basketball team better than you found it, and these guys have done that. I'm a proud coach."
Coach App reflected on the year saying, "It never ends when you want it to, whether that's the NCAA championship game or the NESCAC tournament. The only thing I asked them this year was to compete and put us in a position to be successful, and they did that. Those guys have represented Williams well on and off the court."