ALLIANCE, OH – The Williams College Ephs (10-1) captured the Mount Union M-Club Classic title in a 70-67 victory over the University of Mount Union Purple Raiders (8-3).
The first half set the tone for the remainder of the game, proceeding with a lethargy which contrasted sharply with the explosive opening of the Ephs' game against Hope yesterday. Seven minutes in, neither team had made better than 36% of their shots, and Williams was 1-7 from three-point range.
Neither team was able to put together a run of any kind in the first half; the largest margin was five, briefly held twice by Mount Union before Williams knotted the game again. A three-pointer by J.J. Kukura with seventeen seconds left in the half gave the Raiders a 37-35 lead that they carried into the half.
Senior captain Dan Aronowitz put an early spark in the Williams offense. Despite struggling from three-point range, he scored thirteen of the Ephs' first nineteen points and finished with a team-high 21. In doing so, Aronowitz becomes the 34th player in Williams basketball history with 1,000 career points, reaching the mark on a fast break layup off a steal by Cole Teal. He finished the game tied for 32nd all-time.
Corresponding to Aronowitz's success in the first half was the performance of J.J. Kukura, who racked up 16 points for the Raiders and finished with 20 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
The second half did not change the offensive struggles of either team, despite an initial burst of activity. Mount Union opened the half with a 7-2 run to take their largest lead of the game with 17:46 remaining to play, but the Raiders then went cold as ice from the field, failing to make a field goal until Diallo Niamke got a layup to fall with 4:24 to play. The Raiders scored only nine points over this span.
Williams, however, struggled to take advantage of this epic cold snap, due partially to their own shooting woes—the Ephs shot just 41% from the field and 18% from three-point range in the second half—as well as to the plethora of fouls called on both teams. The second half saw 31 personal fouls called, disrupting play and allowing the Raiders, who made 12 of their 14 foul shots, to stay in the game. Williams correspondingly struggled from the line, shooting an uncharacteristic 65% from the line in the second half.
After Niamke's bucket awakened Mount Union from their dry spell, the Raiders rallied back to within one point of the Ephs with an 11-4 run led by DeAllen Jackson, who scored nine of those points. Down two after a James Heskett free throw, the Raiders looked to win the game on the final possession, but Heskett stole the ball and was fouled on the ensuing break. He made both of his free throws, giving Williams a four-point lead with eight seconds remaining, putting the game out of reach. A last second free throw by J.J. Kukura set the final score at 70-67.
After the game, Williams head coach Kevin App acknowledged that the game was a bit of a slog, saying, "When you play back-to-back games like both these teams did, you're playing on tired legs but still competing hard and wanting to win a tournament. You can't control some things, but we did enough to win a championship on the road."
Specifically citing the contributions of Chris Galvin and James Heskett, App said, "We have different guys stepping up and making a difference; I really think our depth played a big role in wearing down these two teams."
Largely on the strength of his second half performance, DeAllen Jackson led all scorers with 25 points for Mount Union. In addition to Aronowitz's 21 points, Williams was led by Kyle Scadlock with 17 and James Heskett, who registered twelve points and a team-high eight rebounds. Aronowitz and Scadlock, both natives of Ohio, were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
Williams made 45% of their shots on the night and a below-average 26.9% of their long-range attempts; Mount Union shot 42.1% from the field and 31.8% from behind the arc.
Looking forward to NESCAC play in January, Coach App emphasized the team's growth: "This group continues to grow and find ways to win, and that's what it's all about."
Mount Union returns to action on January 4th hosting Baldwin Wallace, while Williams will play Oneonta State at Chandler Gymnasium on January 3rd.