WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – In an intense matchup reminiscent of playoff basketball, the Williams Ephs (16-6, 5-3 NESCAC) trailed for most of the game against the Wesleyan Cardinals (12-9, 2-5 NESCAC) and could not mount a comeback, falling by a 61-52 score.
After exploding on offense with 83 points against Trinity, the Ephs' offense struggled significantly, shooting just 19 of 71 (26.8%) from the field. The Wesleyan defense stymied the Williams attack all day long, forcing the Ephs to take low-percentage shots and preventing them from going on any sustained runs. The Cardinals' offense wasn't efficient either, shooting 18 of 62 (29.0%) from the floor, but Wesleyan did just enough to stay ahead of Williams at each moment and maintain their lead.
"We didn't play good team basketball today, and I don't think we were playing together like we usually do," said Eph head coach Pat Manning following the defeat. "We were struggling offensively, and we let it carry over into our defense."
Forward Katy O'Connor stood out for the Cardinals, notching a double-double with 12 points and a whopping 21 rebounds. Guard Marina Petruzzi scored 18 points and held the Ephs in check by hitting seven of her eight fourth-quarter free throws. For the Ephs, forward Katie Brule '20 paced the Ephs with 13 points, and forward Maddy Mandyck '22 just missed a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
The Ephs started out with a bang, opening the game with a three by Brule on a pick-and-pop play. But the Cardinals' defense held the Ephs without another make until just two minutes remained in the quarter, and outscored the Ephs 17-7 the rest of the way. Williams struggled early from the field, hitting just 3 of 19 (15.8%) of their shots, and scored only 10 points despite their offense netting six offensive rebounds.
Wesleyan continued to play stifling defense in the second quarter, holding Williams without a field goal until 5:07 remained and extending their lead to 26-12. The Ephs responded with a 7-0 run punctuated by another Brule three, but the Cardinals answered with a three of their own by guard Maggie Lee. The Cardinals' Katy O'Connor outhustled the Ephs' defense with a putback layup with 0:34 to go to make it 31-21, but guard Mikaela Topper '21 made a driving layup with just two seconds left to cut the deficit to eight at the half.
While the Wesleyan offense wasn't necessarily efficient from the floor in the first half, shooting just 13 of 37 (35.1%), they were careful with the ball, finishing the half with zero turnovers. O'Connor gashed the Ephs on the boards, grabbing 12 rebounds in the first half alone. On the strength of her two threes, Brule led the Ephs at the half with 8 points. Emily Chang '20, who scored a career-high 30 points last week against Trinity, was held scoreless in the first half. On both offense and defense, Gabby Martin '21 made several difference-making plays to keep the Ephs in the game. With 4:51 left in the first quarter, Martin missed a three-pointer, got her own rebound as she was falling out of bounds, and dished the ball to Brule in the paint, who was subsequently fouled. Brule made both of the ensuing free throws.
The Ephs switched to a man defense to start the third quarter, and it worked, holding the Cardinals to just 12 points in the quarter. The game became extremely intense, as Wesleyan's Katie Ryan emphatically stuffed Brule on a three-point attempt only for Brule to immediately respond with a three to beat the shot clock. Chang's first three of the game narrowed the deficit to four – the lowest it had been since the first quarter – but after a miss by Topper, Maddie Clark made a wide-open corner three off the fast break with just one second to go, bringing the Cardinal lead back to seven.
The Ephs repeatedly tried to claw back in the fourth quarter, but were ultimately unable to get the game within one possession. Though Topper missed two driving layups that could have brought the Ephs closer, Maddy Mandyck's layup with 2:02 to go put the Ephs within four. But the Cardinals, aided by Petruzzi's accuracy from the line, stayed aggressive on defense and prevented the Ephs from coming any closer.
Despite O'Connor's 21 boards, the Ephs essentially matched the Cardinals in rebounding, grabbing 50 rebounds to the Cardinals' 53 and outrebounding them on offense, 15-14. Additionally, Williams outscored Wesleyan in the paint, 20-16, and on second chances, 13-12. Still, it didn't feel like the margins were that close, as the Ephs still struggled against the Cardinals' physical play. "We gave up too many second-chance points," remarked Manning. "[Wesleyan] had a player with ten offensive rebounds, and they beat us on the boards."
Shot selection was another important reason why the Ephs couldn't mount a comeback. "We didn't attack the basket much, but we had success when we did try to take the ball to the basket," said Manning. "We settled for too many outside shots, shots that we shouldn't have settled for. We weren't working the ball the way we needed to."
In order to succeed in tournament play, the Ephs will need to improve setting screens and cutting to the basket. "We have to cut hard and use our screens well," noted Manning. "Even great defenses can't stop everything, and we have to take what they're giving us. I don't think we read the Wesleyan defense well tonight."
Next Friday at 7:00PM, the Ephs travel to Maine to play Bates in their second-to-last regular season game.