WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Jordan Bonner sunk two clutch free throws with 11.0 seconds on the clock to help the Wesleyan Cardinals (6-0) defeat the Williams Ephs (5-1) by a final score of 72-67 in overtime. In a back and forth defensive battle, the Cardinals made a couple more plays down the stretch to outlast the Ephs in the non-conference matchup between the Little Three rivals.
"It really came down to that 50-50 call at the end," said Williams Head Coach Kevin App. "I did think we had too many lapses where we gave too many guys good shots instead of taking away their strengths. It was a close hard fought game, and it comes down to the little stuff."
The last two times these teams played in Chandler Gym, the margin of victory was just two points with Cardinals winning in 2015 and Ephs winning in 2016. With both squads entering tonight's matchup with five double-digit non-conference victories apiece, the game foreshadowed the hotly contested and physical nature of NESCAC play, which officially begins in January.
"I thought we got the shots we wanted for most of the game. We just need to make them but also anticipate where they are going to come against a better defensive team. We could have done a better job of that tonight," said Coach App.
From the opening tip, Wesleyan set the tone on the defensive end. The Cardinals kept the Ephs off the board for the first three minutes, jumping out to an early 6-0 lead. After a difficult left-handed finish by junior James Heskett, the Ephs rattled off an 8-0 run to reclaim the lead. But it became obvious to the hundreds in attendance that no baskets would come easy for either team.
Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in the half, with the Ephs connecting on 12 of 31 (38.7 percent) and the Cardinals making 13 of 33 (39.4 percent). In a game where neither team could claim much momentum, the Ephs found themselves with a 30-25 lead and possession of the ball with 4:00 left in the half. But Williams failed to capitalize on the opportunity to extend their lead. Wesleyan finished the half on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 32-32 heading into the break.
Kyle Scadlock looked to attack the basket, but earned little sympathy from the referees. The Cardinals made him earn his 10 first half points. Bobby Casey hit all three of his three-point attempts for 9 points. Bonner led the Cardinals with 7 points at the half.
Despite the Ephs' size, Wesleyan dominated the boards. The Cardinals won the rebounding battle 27-15 in the half including a 9-2 edge on the offensive boards.
Wesleyan opened the second half on a 5-0 run to take a 37-32 lead. But as was the case all game, the Cardinals could not create any meaningful separation. Casey responded with a personal 5-0 run to tie the game with 15:17 left. At that point, the game seemed destined to go down to the wire. For the remainder of regulation, neither team led by more than four.
With 6:42 remaining, Heskett drilled a three from the left corner to give the Ephs a 52-48 lead and a slew of momentum. But after a Wesleyan timeout, Bonner responded with a three of his own, silencing the hometown crowd. A couple minutes later, Mike Greenman hit two free throws to once again extend the Ephs' lead to four at 57-53. However, the Cardinals dug in on defense and kept Williams off the scoreboard for the final four minutes.
With the score tied at 57 and only 34 seconds on the game clock, Wesleyan called timeout to setup a play. Everything went according to plan as Nathan Krill found himself wide open from the left wing with 5 seconds remaining, but his game-winning attempt caromed off the back rim. Scadlock rushed the ball up the court and put a 30-foot runner as time expired, but the desperation shot clanked off the front rim.
Overtime brought plenty of excitement as both teams traded the lead on several occasions. With 2:45 left, Chris Galvin found Scadlock inside on a beautiful backdoor cut for a vicious two-handed slam to put the Ephs on top 62-61. But Wesleyan remained calm and answered on the other end to reclaim the lead.
With under a minute to play and the game tied at 67, Bonner drove to the left. Although he missed his initial attempt, he grabbed the rebound and drew a foul on the put back effort. The call drew ire from the nearly everyone in the gym not sporting Wesleyan attire. Bonner sank both free throws to put the Cardinals up two with 23 seconds left. After a turnover on the other end, the Ephs intentionally fouled Bonner who sealed the game at the line.
Casey led the Ephs with 17 points on an impressive 5-7 three-point shooting. Scadlock recorded a well-earned double double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Bonner finished with 22 points and 5 rebounds for the victors.
Williams shot 23 of 62 (37.1 percent) from the field including 9 of 33 (27.3 percent) from three. Additionally, the Ephs made only 12 of 23 free throw attempts, including 1-5 in overtime.
"That just happens," Coach App said about his team's free throw woes. "That's what these early season games are about. It's different guys stepping up in different roles. A lot of those guys weren't getting those opportunities last year, but they'll be better next game because of it."
While the Cardinals also shot poorly from the field, they did connect on 19 of 24 free throws. That very well could have been the difference in the game.
Williams returns to action on Tuesday with a road game at Westfield State at 7:30 p.m.