WILLIAMSTOWN, MA—Coming off of four losses in their last five games, the Williams College Ephs (13-5, 2-4) made a statement at home with a 89-65 victory over NESCAC rival and 15th-ranked Middlebury College Panthers (13-3, 3-2).
"This was the best we have played collectively since the fall. Everyone from the starters to the bench went in, played hard, and played with confidence," Williams head coach Kevin App said after the game.
After a first half against Hamilton that App had described as "soft and tentative", Williams came out with the exact opposite energy against Middlebury. The Panthers brought an aggressive and quick offense to Chandler Gym, but the Ephs immediately dialed it up to match them. The first half was a frenzy of activity on both sides of the floor, and the determined look in the Ephs' eyes was matched by their performance: Williams hit 55.6% of their shots in the first half and nearly half of their shots from three-point.
Senior tri-captain Dan Aronowitz scored the Ephs' first seven points with two drives and a three-pointer, taking back an early lead initially established by a trey and then drive by Matt St. Amour. The teams traded buckets in quick succession for the next several minutes—the Ephs had equalled their 25 first-half points against Hamilton with nine minutes to play in the half—when Bobby Casey dribbled out of trouble in the corner and sank a three-pointer from the right side to put Williams up 24-23.
After a travel call against Middlebury, Kyle Scadlock got a second-chance post bucket to fall and Marcos Soto then converted a putback off a Mike Greenman miss to give Williams a five-point lead, their largest of the game thus far. Perry DeLorenzo pulled Middlebury back to within two with a three-pointer, but 6'8 sophomore Marcos Soto sank back-to-back threes, extending the Eph lead up to eight and forcing a Panther timeout.
Both teams stalled out for the next couple minutes, and the Eph lead stayed in the mid-single digits. In the final two minutes, five quick points by Jake Brown plus a Matt St. Amour floater retook a 37-36 lead for Middlebury, but James Heskett knocked down a three from the corner with five seconds to play, giving Williams a two-point lead at the half.
The teams remained knotted for the first few minutes of the second half, but with the score 42-40 and 16:40 left in the game, Dan Aronowitz hit a three ball off a screen by Marcos Soto, kicking off a 17-5 run for the Ephs which lasted for the next four and a half minutes. Soto contributed a three-point play on a drive, and Matt Karpowicz posted up Nick Tarantino to give Williams a double-digit lead.
Meanwhile, the Panthers tried to use intensity and tempo to their advantage with quick shots, but Matt St. Amour, who nonetheless had an excellent 24-point game, missed three consecutive three-pointers before finally answering a three by James Heskett with one of his own.
Up 53-43, Matt Karpowicz got another strong post bucket to fall, and James Heskett converted two pairs of foul shots punctuated by a jumper by Middlebury forward Matt Folger. St. Amour looked to reverse the run with a trey from way behind the line, but Bobby Casey had the answer, hitting a three of his own and confirming the Eph lead at 14 points with 11:48 to play—the lead would not fall below twelve again.
Williams slowly extended their lead with more strong play by Aronowitz, Soto, and Heskett, the latter two of whom were in double digits in the second half and finished with career-high scoring totals. With six minutes remaining, Kyle Scadlock came down with a huge rebound and kicked it out to Mike Greenman who swished a trey to give Williams a nineteen-point lead, 77-58.
At this point, Williams slowed down the pace of the game, and the Eph reserves got some playing time in the final ninety seconds. Having outscored the Panthers 50-28 in the second half, the Ephs led 89-65 at the final buzzer.
Matt St. Amour led all scorers with 24 points, while Jake Brown contributed 10 points and Eric McCord put in eight points and a game-high eight rebounds. Marcos Soto led the Ephs with 20 points, and James Heskett and Dan Aronowitz each had 18. Kyle Scadlock led the team with seven rebounds and contributed three blocks.
Williams's success shooting in the first half held in the second, while Middlebury's woes from the field intensified as the game progressed. The Ephs made 61.5% of their second-half attempts and half of their treys, finishing the game with season-highs in both categories: 58.5% from the field and 48.1% from three-point. Middlebury shot 40% from the field on the game and just 28% from long distance.
Coach App confirmed afterwards what was apparent to anyone who watched the game: the Ephs were having fun and feeling relaxed. "We played like we didn't care what happened, and that's what we've been missing. When we play as hard as we can and as fun as we can, we're a really good basketball team."
Middlebury will host Lyndon State on Tuesday, January 24, while Williams will travel to face their arch-rivals Amherst in a non-conference, Little Three contest on Wednesday, January 25.