AMHERST, Mass. – A Bobby Casey '19 3-pointer put the Ephs up five with 30 seconds remaining as No. 8 Williams (21–5, 7–3 in the NESCAC) topped No. 13 Hamilton in an exhilarating 76-73 NESCAC semifinal contest.
Casey had struggled with his shot for much of the night, but he rattled in a 3 from the right wing as the shot clock expired to give Williams a late two-possession lead. Hamilton forward Andrew Groll made a layup to bring the score to 73-70 with 21 seconds remaining, and the Continentals began to foul. Eph co-captain Mike Greenman '17.5 made two free throws before Continental guard Timothy Doyle cut the margin to two with a 3 from the point.
James Heskett '19 went to the foul line with five seconds left, making the first of two shots. Down 76-73, Hamilton was unable to get a final shot off before the buzzer, and Williams punched its ticket to the title game.
Greenman returned from an eight-game absence to provide 14 points, four rebounds and four assists on 3-of-4 3-point shooting off the bench. In total, the Eph bench outscored the Continental bench 31-21.
Head coach Kevin App commented on the significance of Greenman's return. "It's exciting for him and great for our team," App said. "When he got hurt, he didn't know if that would be the last time he played college basketball. We made it a mission to get the other guys to rally around him and make sure he was able to get back out here. He's worked hard to do it."
Hamilton guard Kena Gilmour and forward Peter Hoffmann tied for the game-high with 20 points each, while Heskett added 19 for Williams.
The Ephs jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first 2:13 of the game, converting their first four attempts from the field. With Williams up 12-7 at 15:53, Greenman entered the game and led a 13-6 run. He made his first shot, a deep 3 from the point, and he converted a 4-point play to bring the score to 25-13, the Ephs' largest lead of the game.
Hamilton then went on a run of its own. After Heskett's 3 made it 28-18 at the 10-minute mark, the Continentals scored eight unanswered points in the next 3:20. Over a seven-minute stretch, Hamilton outscored Williams 18-6 to tie the game at 31. The Ephs made just three of their last 17 field goal attempts in the half.
However, Williams finished the half strong, taking a 37-33 lead at the break while holding Hamilton scoreless for the final 2:59 of the period.
A Heskett 3 put the Ephs up 44-38 early in the second half, but the Continentals answered with seven straight points. Hoffman's runner gave Hamilton a 45-44 lead, its first of the game, with 15:39 remaining. Gilmour drove into the lane and converted an acrobatic layup at 13:42 to put the Continentals up 50-47, their largest advantage of the game.
With the Ephs down 52-51, Greenman blew by his defender and made a left-handed layup to spark an 11-2 run, marking the sixth and final lead change of the half. To cap the spurt, Greenman found Casey on a cut to the hoop for an easy finish, putting Williams ahead 62-54.
A 3 by Gilmour momentarily stopped the bleeding, pulling Hamilton within five, but Heskett knocked down a 3 on the other end to make it 67-57.
However, Groll and Gilmour combined to score seven unanswered points, and another 3 by Gilmour brought the score to 67-64 with 3:56 remaining. Co-captain Cole Teal '18 made a 3, his first points of the second half, to extend the lead to six, but Gilmour and Hoffmann scored two apiece to make it 70-68.
Casey's 3 brought the lead back up to two possessions, and despite Doyle's late 3, the Ephs hung on to win.
App commended his team's balanced scoring output, as four different players – Heskett, Greenman, Teal and Matthew Karpowicz '20 – scored in double figures.
"We've always talked about one of our strengths being our depth and balance," App said. "Our whole bench came in and provided good minutes. Henry Feinberg ['20] came in and played great. Everybody's worked really hard on their own game to be ready for those moments."
Williams shot 27 of 64 (42.2 percent) from the field and 13 of 32 (40.6 percent) from long range, while Hamilton shot 30 of 67 (44.8 percent) from the field and seven of 18 (38.9 percent) from deep. The Continentals had a 40-39 advantage in rebounds.
Along with his 20 points, Gilmour recorded game highs of nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Second-seeded Williams faces fourth-seeded Wesleyan in the title game tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The two previous meetings between the teams went to overtime. The Ephs won the Dec. 2 matchup 72-67, while the Cardinals won the Jan. 5 contest 76-68.
Williams finished runner-up in last year's tournament after falling to Middlebury in the final.
"Just to have this opportunity for the second straight year is a testament to how hard these guys have worked," App said. "It's going to be a quick turnaround and a great environment, so we'll have some fun. We're looking forward to playing and having a chance to win this NESCAC tournament."