WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – In a tightly contested match between two evenly matched teams, the Williams Ephs (14-5, 3-2 NESCAC) prevailed over the Middlebury Panthers (12-6, 1-4 NESCAC), 59-50.
After starting slowly in each half against Amherst on Wednesday, the Ephs reversed course, starting the first and second halves with 16-3 and 10-0 runs, respectively. Both defenses played strong, but the Ephs' bigger lineup, featuring both Maddy Mandyck '22 and Katie Brule '20, stymied the Panthers offense in the paint and grabbed several key rebounds, especially in the second half. As a result of the team's improved defense, Williams didn't relinquish the lead after taking it in the opening seconds of the second half.
"We played a better second half than first," remarked Eph head coach Pat Manning following the big conference win. "We started off really strong in the first quarter, but then our on-ball defense eased up a bit in the second quarter, and they got a few easy baskets. But we talked about [the on-ball defense] at halftime, and they adjusted really well."
Guard Mikaela Topper '21 led the Ephs with 18 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. Brule cam up just one rebound short of a double-double, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds. Two other Ephs, Mandyck and Maggie Meehan '21, scored in double digits, with Mandyck playing particularly impressive defense throughout.
Kira Waldman led the Panthers with 15 points and 5 assists, and Maya Davis earned a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers. Betsy Knox forced the Ephs to adjust in the second quarter with seven points, all of which came on layups and free throws. But Williams found a solution to defend Knox after that, holding her scoreless in the second half.
Manning cited improved on-ball defense as the most important reason behind limiting Knox's impact in the second half. "Between Maggie, Mikaela, and Gabby, the pressure that they put on the ball was so important. It makes it much easier to defend someone in the paint when it's harder for the ball to get in there, so the ball pressure was really key."
The Panthers started off ice-cold on offense, making just one of their first 13 field goal attempts and scoring just 7 points in the first quarter. The Ephs started strong on defense, using a bigger lineup with both Mandyck and Brule on the court and slowing down the Panthers in the paint. Williams, aided by two contested three-pointers by Topper, ended the first with an 18-7 advantage.
In the second quarter, Middlebury executed better on their chances in the paint and got right back into the game. With 2:47 to go, Betsy Knox's jumper gave the Panthers their first lead of the game at 26-25. In the final minutes, Mandyck made two impressive plays – first spinning past Midd's Reagan McDonald and then delivering an assist from under the basket to a driving Katie Brule – but the Panthers took the lead back at the last second on Kira Waldman's layup.
After trailing for most of the first half, Middlebury led 30-29 at halftime. Brule led the Ephs at the half with nine points and five rebounds, while McDonald paced the Panthers with eight points and two three-pointers. After scoring 7 points in the first quarter, Topper was held scoreless in the second. Knox, on the other hand, scored all of her seven first-half points in the second quarter, bullying the Ephs down low and spearheading the Panthers' second-quarter comeback.
The Ephs started the third quarter on fire, going on a 10-0 run to open the second half. After cold first halves, Emily Chang '20 and Maggie Meehan '21 quickly heated up by each hitting a three during the run. But once again, the Panthers clawed back, outscoring the Ephs 11-6 for the rest of the quarter. Topper, however, broke her scoring drought with a layup in the final seconds to put the Ephs up 45-41 at the end of the third.
Both offenses started slow in the fourth, with each team scoring just two points in the first four minutes. Then, Meehan made two significant plays, first breaking the scoring drought with a layup and then stealing a telegraphed pass from Kamryn You Mak and taking it all the way to the hoop for to extend the Ephs' lead back to eight. The Panthers couldn't get the game within one possession from there, as the Eph defense stayed strong and the offense came up with some clutch rebounds in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
Manning was especially impressed by the performance of Mandyck and Brule, who were both heavily featured in the lineup today. "Katie and Maddy were standouts to me," said Manning. "They were doing such a good job on the boards on defense. They pass well to each other, they were sealing well to get the ball. There was no reason to make a change because they played so well together."
The two teams finished with very similar statistics across the board. Williams (42.0 FG%, 29.4 3FG%) edged Middlebury (37.5 FG%, 28.6 3FG%) in overall field-goal percentage, but the two teams were nearly identical from beyond the arc. Both the Ephs and the Panthers turned the ball over 14 times, and Williams edged Middlebury 18-16 on points in the paint. For the Ephs, offensive rebounds were key, as they scored 14 second-chance points compared to just 6 for the Panthers.
Next Friday, January 31st at 7:00PM, the Ephs continue their homestand against Connecticut College.