THOUSAND OAKS, CA -- The Hamline College Pipers (5-5) battled back from a 14-point second half deficit to defeat the Williams College Ephs (8-2) 73-71. Nursing a two-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining, Isaac Brooks grabbed a huge offensive rebound for Hamline forcing Williams to foul. Zach Smith hit both free throws to seal the game.
"It was another close game and we had guys hit some big shots down the stretch," said Williams Head Coach Kevin App. "But overall I thought we didn't have great balance on offense and settled too much. We feel we can score enough points to win games, which usually comes from our defense. That didn't happen tonight."
After a three-week break, the Ephs looked to dust off any rust before the commencement of NESCAC play. Playing on the campus of Cal Lutheran, Williams entered the game coming off three straight wins including an impressive 17-point victory over Springfield College. At the start, the Ephs picked up right where they had left off, jumping out to an early 8-0 lead. Hamline, coming off a 66-61 victory over Cal Lutheran last night, fought back to make it a one possession game by the 14-minute mark. But hot outside shooting helped the Ephs maintain a single digit lead for nearly the entirety of the half.
Starting at the 10-minute mark, Hamline reeled off a 9-0 run to tie the game at 23-23, forcing Williams to call timeout. But juniors Marcos Soto and James Heskett combined for three three-point baskets over the next couple minutes to help the Ephs regain the lead. At halftime, the Ephs led 34-29. Williams shot 6-12 from three in the first half. Heskett had two of those and led the Ephs with 11 points at the break. Bobby Casey added 9.
The Ephs looked like they might run away with the game early in the second half. Soto drilled a three to cap a 16-5 run that gave Williams a 50-36 lead with under 14 minutes to go. But a three ball from Nick Powell swung the momentum back to Hamline, sparking a 9-0 run. It quickly became clear that neither team was going to pull away. Both squads traded blows for several minutes until Hamline finally took their first lead of the game at 62-60 with just 3:47 left.
The final three minutes of the game were filled with exciting back-and-forth action. There were two ties and five lead changes, ultimately culminating in a clutch jump shot from Zach Smith to give Hamline a 71-69 lead with just under a minute remaining. On Williams' ensuing possession, Cole Teal was called for an offensive foul while trying to set a screen. Between Brooks' clutch rebound and Smith's free throws, Hamline showed great poise finishing off the nationally ranked Ephs.
James Heskett scored an impressive 24 points including 5-8 from three. Casey and Soto both scored in double figures with 15 and 11 respectively.
Smith had a huge night for the Pipers, turning in 31 points. Brooks scored 14 and pulled down 14 rebounds.
Despite some struggles early in the season, Williams did shoot a scorching hot 14 of 31 (45.2 percent) from deep. However, the Ephs connected on just 3-9 (33 percent) from the free throw line. As a team, Hamline shot 28 of 52 (53 percent) from the field including 7-15 (46.7 percent). The Pipers bested the Ephs at the free throw line, making 10 of 11 (90.9 percent).
"Our defense not where it needs to be," said Coach App. "Against good teams that can burn you. We didn't have enough energy on that end tonight."
Williams returns to action tomorrow against Cal Lutheran at 7 p.m.
"Tomorrow I'm excited to see see how the team responds," said Coach App. "The back to back will help prepare us for NESCAC play. Hopefully we can also get a win."