MEDFORD, MA—The Williams College Ephs (19-7), seeded sixth in the tournament, punched their ticket to the NESCAC title game with an 81-65 upset victory over the top-seeded Tufts University Jumbos (20-6).
The first half saw two very evenly matched teams, as illustrated by the score at the half: 39-35. Williams scored the game's first five points, but Tarik Smith nailed a three-pointer to open the scoring for the Jumbos. The Ephs maintained this small lead for almost the entirety of the half, at times threatening to open up a wider margin but always halted by a Tufts run.
The next ten minutes saw the Williams lead remain in the low single digits. Tufts put Williams in the bonus rather early, reaching the seven foul mark with six minutes to go, but Williams struggled with turnovers, totaling nine in the half. The starkest statistical contrast was in rebounds, where Williams racked up a 23-12 margin, including 9 offensive boards. All told, the teams remained very even, shooting close to 50% from the field and playing strong defense.
Back-to-back buckets by Marcos Soto gave Williams another seven-point lead, 36-29, with two minutes to play, but once again Tufts answered with three-point shooting. Back-to-back long balls by Eric Savage and Thomas Lapham to cut the margin back to one. Cole Teal banked in a three of his own in the final minutes, setting the score at 39-35.
The second half picked up largely where the first left off: Williams held their lead, but Tufts kept it a slim one. Lapham made it a 56-55 game with eleven minutes to play, but senior tri-captain Dan Aronowitz, who only took two shots from the field in the first half, strung together five consecutive points to give Williams a six-point margin.
Characteristically, however, the Jumbos answered with three-pointers. Following a pair of foul shots by Ethan Feldman, Thomas Lapham and KJ Garrett hit back-to-back treys to make the score 63-61 in the Jumbos' favor, their first lead since the score was 13-12. Williams felt the pressure and continued to heave threes which refused to fall for them—in contrast to their 5-11 performance in the first half, the Ephs hit only 2 of their first 13 three-point attempts in the second. After Bobby Casey tied it up with a tough bucket down low, Kyle Scadlock posted up KJ Garrett to retake the lead, but Garrett answered on the other end with a layup of his own with 4:51 to play.
Dan Aronowitz then kicked off what was to be the game winning run with a pair of foul shots; Tufts would not score again. Mike Greenman followed with an open three-pointer, his third of the game, Bobby Casey got a layup to fall, and Kyle Scadlock took the lead to double digits with a drive up the baseline.
This drastic swing in momentum seemed to disorient the Jumbos, whose shots stopped falling and whose offensive attack seemed sloppier, resulting in tough shots, travel calls, and missed post opportunities. With 1:18 to go, Tufts began intentionally fouling to buy time, and the Ephs hit their free throws. Tufts still struggled to put together successful offensive possessions, and the Ephs' foul shots ran up the score to 81-65 at the final buzzer.
"We just went out there, competed, and really enjoyed the competition," Williams head coach Kevin App said after the game. "They're a talented team, but we were able to repsond to their runs by not trying to do too much and playing to our roles. This was really the culmination of eveyrhting we've learned over the past year."
On the game, Tufts shot 37.3% from the field and a solid 40.6% from three-point, their primary offensive weapon. Williams by contrast hit 46.8% of their shots but only 32% of attempts from behind the arc, a mark brought down significantly by the Ephs' 21.3% performance from three in the second half. But the Ephs clearly found ways around this shortcoming; they outscored Tufts in the paint 32-8. Williams also significantly outrebounded the Jumbos, pulling down 48 rebounds compared to Tufts' 29.
Kyle Scadlock registered a double-double on the game with game-high marks in both points (20) and rebounds (11). Mike Greenman was just one assist away from a double-double of his own, his nine assists accompanying 14 points. Dan Aronowitz, Marcos Soto, and Bobby Casey were all also in double digits for Williams.
KJ Garrett led Tufts with 14 points, followed closely by Tarik Smith's 13. Everett Dayton led Tufts rebounders with six, in addition to his 10 points.
Williams will face 2nd-seeded Middlebury in the NESCAC Championship game on Sunday at noon after the Panthers defeated Trinity 76-60 in their semifinal contest. During the regular season, Williams defeated Middlebury handily 89-65 in perhaps their best win of the year. The NESCAC champion receives a guaranteed bid to the NCAA tournament.
"Tomorrow's a fun one," Coach App told the team. "Getting there is the hard part. Now we get to play as hard as we can and enjoy the game."