WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – In the NESCAC Quarterfinal, the No. 4 seed Williams Ephs (18-7) took an early lead against the No. 5 seed Trinity Bantams (16-9) and never relinquished it, winning an intense, 65-56 affair.
In a rematch of their 83-76 regular-season win over the Bantams, the Ephs sprinted out to a double-digit, first-quarter lead and never let up from there. Williams held a strong Trinity offense to just 8 points in the first quarter and played a strong defensive game throughout. While guard Maggie Meehan '21 shined in the first half for the Ephs with 14 points, forward Katie Brule '20 took it from there, scoring 15 of her 17 points in the second half to lead the Ephs to their first home NESCAC tournament win since 2015.
"We had to fight for 40 minutes," remarked Eph head coach Pat Manning following the win. "It was a great team effort, and it's big to be going to the semis against the quality of opponents that we've had."
Bantam guard Peace Kabari, who scored 26 points in the first matchup between these two teams, led all scorers with 27. However, the Williams defense limited the rest of the Trinity offense to just 29. The Ephs held the Bantams to just 19 of 61 (31.1%) shooting, while going an efficient 24 of 53 (45.3%) from the field themselves. In addition to Meehan and Brule, forward Maddy Mandyck enjoyed an especially strong game, playing all 40 minutes and notching a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"When looking over the film, we saw that we gave them some easy, 1-on-1 shots last time," commented Manning on the Ephs' defensive performance. "We focused on our help defense this week, and it was better in this game. We limited their chances and made them take tougher shots."
In the first quarter, the Ephs shut down the explosive Trinity attack on defense and dominated in the paint on offense, taking a double-digit, 18-8 lead into the end of the quarter. The Ephs didn't hit a shot outside the paint until just over two minutes remained in the quarter, but Maddy Mandyck kept Williams ahead with six points on 3-for-3 shooting. At the end of the quarter, the Ephs scored eight combined points on three possessions, including two threes by a red-hot Meehan.
The Ephs threatened to extend their lead even further in the second, but the Bantams closed the quarter with a 6-0 run to narrow the deficit to seven at the half. Meehan, who led the Ephs with 14 points at the half, drilled two more threes, the second of which put Williams up 33-20 with 2:57 to play in the half. The Bantams however, held the Ephs scoreless for the remaining three minutes, scoring six points of their own to pull within 33-26 at halftime.
Kabari made all 3 of her second-quarter three-point attempts to keep the game close. She led Trinity with 16 points at the half, while no other Bantam had more than four.
Meehan paced the Ephs with 14 points in the first half. Mandyck was right behind her, scoring 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line. Whereas the Ephs shot an efficient 12 of 24 (50.0%) in the first half, the Bantams managed just a 7-of-24 (29.2%) mark.
By the end of the third quarter, the Ephs extended their lead back to 11 by ending the quarter with a 5-0 run. Trinity had managed a 6-0 run of their own to get within six, but Gabby Martin hit a three with 2:00 to go and Brule tacked on two free throws from there.
Williams built off the momentum of their third-quarter run with a strong start to the fourth, extending their lead to as many as 18 with Brule's three-point play with 5:14 to go. The Bantams went on a 15-4 run from there to narrow the deficit to 7, but could not score again from there. It was only fitting that Brule scored the final two points of the game on a layup with 1:44 to play.
Manning glowed about Brule's standout game following the win. "It was very exciting to see Katie play the best game of her career in her final home game at Williams. She did it on both ends of the floor."
Despite losing forward Emily Peckham to a season-ending injury, the Ephs have been saving their best basketball for the stretch run. "We've had adversity – we lost [Peckham] early – and yet, this team stays so focused and takes it one game at a time," said Manning. "We've been playing good basketball for the past three or four weeks, and we're only starting to pull it together."
Next Saturday (time TBA), the Ephs will take on undefeated No. 1 seed Tufts on the road in the semifinal.