AMHERST, Mass. – For the first time since 2010 and the fifth time in school history, the Ephs are NESCAC champions.
"It was just a great group effort," head coach Kevin App said. "Our seniors in particular made it a big goal to get us one of these plaques. They know how hard it is, and as a coach, I'm just really proud and happy for them."
No. 8 Williams (22–5, 7–3 in the NESCAC) shook off a slow start to defeat No. 14 Wesleyan 69-58 in the conference final this afternoon in LeFrak Gymnasium. In what began as a defensive battle, a 9-2 Eph run in the first half made the difference in the game.
Second-seeded Williams and fourth-seeded Wesleyan both rank top 10 nationally in opponent scoring, and each team made it difficult for the other to score early on.
The Ephs missed their first seven field goal attempts, while the Cardinals missed their first five. After two free throws from forward JR Bascom, guard Jordan Bonner's mid-range jumper gave Wesleyan a 4-0 lead at 15:29. Williams did not score until the 15-minute mark, when Bobby Casey '19 made a free throw. With 11:03 left in the half, the Cardinals took a 12-7 lead, their largest of the game, on an Austin Hutcherson floater in the lane.
The Ephs then scored eight unanswered points, taking a 13-12 lead on consecutive 3-pointers from James Heskett '19 and co-captain Cole Teal '18. Matt Karpowicz '20 threw down a dunk off a feed from co-captain Chris Galvin '18 to put Williams up 15-12.
Forward Nathan Krill made a jumper to end a nearly four-minute scoring drought for the Cardinals, but co-captain guard Mike Greenman '17.5 made consecutive 3-pointers to extend the Eph lead to 21-14 with 6:03 left in the half. All in all, Williams outscored Wesleyan 9-2 over a five-minute stretch.
"Our bench came in and gave us a boost of energy," App said. "Back-to-back games can be ugly at the start, and Wesleyan is one of the best defensive teams in the country. The guys that came off the bench picked up the pace and got us some easy points in transition."
Casey, who made six of seven first-half free throws, extended the lead to 11 points before the Cardinals closed the gap to 30-22 at halftime. Bascom pulled down 10 rebounds in the first half.
With 9:49 left in the game, Williams led 49-35. Wesleyan, however, went on a 10-2 run to make it a two-possession game. The Cardinals used a zone defense to force a turnover, and forward Nathan Krill converted an and-one in transition to bring the score to 49-42. Minutes later, a corner 3 from Bonner brought Wesleyan within six at 51-45.
Forward Henry Feinberg '20 knocked down a 3 stop the run, and Heskett brought the lead back to double digits with a layup at 5:10. The Cardinals cut the deficit once again as a Jordan Sears layup brought the score to 62-56 with just 1:22 left. Nevertheless, the Ephs solidified their lead at the free throw line, prevailing by a final margin of 69-58. Center Michael Kempton '19 was a perfect 6-of-6 on free throws in the final minutes.
Heskett finished with a game-high 17 points. After going just two of 12 in the first half, he scored 12 second-half points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Karpowicz added 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 16 minutes. "I thought today was Matt's best game all-around," App said. "He's one of the more offensively-gifted post players I've ever been around, but his pace, energy and physicality today were what we needed to be able to play at a high level."
Greenman, in his second game back from injury, finished with nine points, four rebounds and five assists. App commented on the significance of the NESCAC title for the fifth-year point guard. "Winning a conference championship was at the top of his list," App said. "It was great just to see him get back out there to be able to compete, but it was incredible for him to play that well with that much confidence and for the championship moment to happen."
App also praised Feinberg, who scored all nine of his points in the second half. "Henry was the guy tonight who made big shots when we needed them," App said. "That's a testament to him and the work he's put in to stay ready."
Prior to today's game, Williams had lost its last four appearances in the NESCAC title game. In his fourth year as the Ephs' head coach, App won his first conference crown.
As the NESCAC champion, Williams gains an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Ephs will learn their first-round opponent at the NCAA Div. III Men's Basketball Selection Show tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
"We're happy to still be playing basketball and to be getting an opportunity to compete," App said. "We've made it to the end of one journey – the NESCAC journey – and left it out there. Now we need to get the energy back up and see where it takes us."