LEWISTON, ME – In an overtime thriller, the Williams Ephs (17-6, 6-3 NESCAC) overcame 45 points by superstar guard Meghan Graff to edge the Bates Bobcats (12-11, 3-6 NESCAC), 84-81.
The Ephs and Bobcats fought back and forth in an instant classic that saw 12 ties and 13 lead changes. With the win, the Ephs clinched a winning record in NESCAC play for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Bates' Meghan Graff shined on both offense and defense, scoring a whopping 45 points, adding five steals, four rebounds, and three assists, and playing 44 of the game's 45 minutes. But the Ephs' team effort – in which all five starters scored in double digits for the first time this season – overcame Graff's superb performance, making just enough clutch shots on offense and stops on defense to edge the Bobcats. It took five periods to decide the game, but today, the Ephs showed that they have the heart, grit, and determination to win close games like these.
"I'm so happy with our team," remarked Eph head coach Pat Manning following the dramatic win. "We competed for 45 minutes, start to finish. We really played a phenomenal game."
With just :36.1 on the clock, Emily Chang '20 finished off a 7-0 Williams run with a reverse layup to give the Ephs a 68-66 lead. But Gabby Martin was called for a foul defending a driving Meghan Graff, who made both of the ensuing free throws to tie the game again at 68. With the shot clock turned off, the Ephs had three opportunities to win it, but couldn't capitalize. After a floater by guard Maggie Meehan '21 fell short, forward Maddy Mandyck '22 grabbed the rebound and air-balled a jumper from outside the key. Guard Mikaela Topper '21 rebounded Mandyck's miss, but missed a potential buzzer-beater, sending the game to overtime.
Graff stole the Ephs' first overtime possession and was fouled by Chang, but made only one of the two free throws. Ariana Dalia extended Bates' lead to three by powering past Chang and hitting a layup off the glass. The Ephs then roared back, cutting the deficit to one with two free-throws by Meehan. Two Bates possessions later, Mandyck stole a telegraphed pass from the Bobcats' Melanie Binkhorst and hit a layup to give the Ephs the lead back, at 72-71. Graff then drew another foul – Chang's fifth and hit both free throws to put Bates back up, and Dalia added another free throw to put Bates up by two. Eph guard Gabby Martin '21 responded emphatically with a three to give Williams the lead back, but fouled out on the ensuing possession, sending Graff back to the line.
After Graff made both free throws, Meehan drew a foul and did the same to put Williams up 77-76 with 1:20 to play. On the following possession, Dalia made a costly pass out of bounds, and Meehan capitalized, hitting a floater that seemed too strong off the release but nonetheless banked in to put the Ephs up by three. Graff tried to tie it with a three, but her attempt wouldn't go, and Topper grabbed a clutch rebound to put the Ephs in control. Topper's two free throws put Williams up by five, but the Bobcats still had a chance to tie in down three with less that a second on the clock. Dalia managed to hit Graff on a baseball pass, allowing Graff to heave a prayer towards the basket. Graff's shot missed, and the Ephs held on to win an amazing game.
All five starting Ephs played well, with Meehan pacing the team with 22 points. Manning, however, was particularly impressed by the performance of Mandyck, who played all 45 minutes and was a major factor on both ends of the floor. "I can't believe how much Maddy has grown this season. She worked very hard, she's very coachable, and her game's just taken off."
The two teams played it close in the first quarter, but the Ephs took a 19-16 lead at the end of the quarter thanks to a 7-0 run to finish it. The Ephs maintained their tenuous lead for most of the second quarter, but the Bobcats managed a 9-2 run to tie the game at halftime. After Eph forward Emily Chang '20 hit a three to give the Ephs their largest lead of the game at 31-24, Graff immediately answered with a three of her own. The Bobcat superstar added four more consecutive points to tie the game at 31, and the two teams each scored one more basket to knot it up 33-33 at the half.
The third quarter saw an offensive explosion, with the two teams combining for 47 points. Bates opened the quarter with a 10-4 run and extended their lead to as many as eight, but the Ephs clawed back with Meehan, Chang, and Mandyck leading the way on offense. By the end of the quarter, the Bobcat lead had been narrowed to three.
In the fourth, the defenses shined as much as the offenses did in the third quarter. The Bobcats' Graff played an important role on defense in the fourth, stealing three errant Eph passes and taking it all the way to the rack on the last one to give the Bobcats a 66-61 lead with just over three minutes to go. But the Ephs fought back, tying the game on Chang's running floater with less than 90 seconds to go.
The two teams nearly matched in each other in field goal percentage, with the Ephs (31/69, 44.9%) earning the slightest of edges over the Bobcats (26/59, 44.1%). The same could be said about the rebounding margin, with Williams narrowly outrebounding Bates 37-34. The Ephs, however, capitalized more on turnovers than the Bobcats did, outscoring them 18-7 on points off of turnovers.
Stopping Graff was never easy, but the Ephs were more successful guarding her in the second half than in the first, particularly with Gabby Martin's strong perimeter defense. "Our goal was to give [Graff] tougher looks, and I think we succeeded at times," said Manning. "[Graff] made some tough shots, though. You never want to give up 45 points to a single player, but we were able to limit their other players below their averages."
A key call went Williams' way at the end of regulation. After Graff missed a potential go-ahead three, Dalia secured the offensive rebound and missed the ensuing putback shot. She fought for her own rebound against Mandyck, who seemed to touch the ball last before it went out of bounds. The Ephs, however, were awarded the ball. Chang then made a layup on the following possession to put Williams ahead 68-66. The call did not necessarily decide the game, however, as Williams did not score again in regulation and Bates still fought back to force overtime.
"This was a tremendous team win, and a tremendous road win," commented Manning. "Playing in Maine is very challenging, and this Bates team has been coming on very strong in the last few weeks."
Tomorrow at 3:00PM, the Ephs play their final regular-season game against undefeated Tufts.