In a thrilling Sweet Sixteen matchup, the 19th ranked Williams Ephs (23-6) overcame a late charge by the Whitman Blues (28-2) to win 84-81 and book a trip to the Elite Eight. Despite committing 29 turnovers, the Ephs shot an impressive 29 of 43 (67.4%) from the field, including 7 of 11 (63.6%) from three.
As a result of Whitman's fast paced full court press, the game took on a nature unlike almost any other the Ephs played all year. While the press afforded Williams plenty of fast-break opportunities, it also caused several Eph turnovers in the early going. However, Whitman struggled to finish on the other end off their steals, allowing the Ephs to stay close in the first few minutes.
Just over four minutes into the game, a two-handed dunk by Williams junior Matt Karpowicz sparked a 6-0 run that gave the Ephs an early 15-10 lead. But Whitman, a terrific three-point shooting team, was not fazed. Joey Hewitt calmly drilled a three to stifle Williams' momentum.
Though one would think that the game's hyper pace would be conducive to runs, neither team could build a lead greater than three points for the next eight minutes. Williams finally found the spark they needed in the form of non-starter Mickey Babek. The junior nailed three three-pointers in a five-minute span to help Williams to a 40-33 lead with just 3:26 remaining in the half.
After a tiring half of up and down basketball, Coach App went deep into his bench to help nurse the fragile lead. In particular, freshman Jovan Jones made significant contributions on defense and with helping to break the press. With under a minute to go, Babek found Jones on a backdoor cut, which led to a foul. Unaffected by the pressure of the NCAA Tournament, the freshman hit both free throws to give Williams a 46-36 lead, their biggest of the half. Whitman's Jack Stewart hit a floater with three seconds left to make the half time score 46-38 in favor of Williams.
In the first half, Williams shot a scorching hot 17 of 27 (63%) from field including 5 of 7 from three. Whitman, meanwhile, shot only 13 of 36 (36%) in the half. Most of those misses were from inside, as they converted of 7 or 16 (44%) three-point attempts.
In the second half, the Ephs picked up right where they left off in the first with Heskett converting a back-door layup for an easy two points. But Whitman also started finding more success in their half-court offense. Whitman guard Austin Butler hit two free throws to pull within six at the 16:26 mark, but Eph junior Henry Feinberg hit a three on the other end to push the Williams lead back to nine.
Williams clung onto a high single-digit lead for much of the first part of the second half until a twisting reverse layup by Eph freshman Spencer Spivy made it 66-55 Ephs with 11:58 to go. The Ephs would take its largest lead of the game at 69-55 following two free throws by Kyle Scadlock at the 11:06 mark. Although the Ephs maintained a somewhat comfortable margin, a combination of foul trouble and Whitman's relentless press continued to provide cause for concern. After Karpowicz made a layup to put Williams up 77-65 with 5:10 remaining, the Blues rattled off a quick 9-0 run in the ensuing two minutes.
It looked like the game might be slipping away from the Ephs when Trevor Osborne's three pulled Whitman to within one at 80-79 with 49.0 seconds left. Then Eph senior Bobby Casey committed a potentially costly turnover on the next possession that would give the Blues one final shot for a trip to the Elite Eight. Out of a timeout, however, Osborne was called for a travelling violation, handing the ball back to Williams with the shot clock turned off.
After successfully inbounding the ball to James Heskett, the senior hit both free throws to put Williams up 82-79 with just 21.0 seconds on the clock. Whitman's Jack Steward missed a potential game-tying three on the next possession, and Eph senior Michael Kempton collected the rebound, though a tie-up led to a jumb-ball call from the official. Fortunately for the Ephs, the arrow pointed in their direction. After one more successful inbounds play, Babek connected on both free throws to seal the game.
Scadlock led the Ephs with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Babek turned in perhaps the clutchest performance of his career with 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists off the bench. Heskett added 14 points for the Ephs.
Butler had a solid 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists for the Blues. Stewart also added 18 points.
Williams advances to tomorrow's Elite Eight against the winner of tonight's game between Hamilton and Christopher Newport.