ITHACA, NY – The Williams Ephs (19-8) shined on defense to top the Albright Lions (22-6), 68-46, in the first round of the NCAA DIII Tournament.
In their first NCAA DIII tournament match since the 2014-15 season, the Ephs did not disappoint. After a close first quarter, the Ephs controlled the game from the second quarter on, taking a 17-15 lead on a three-pointer by guard Mikaela Topper '21 and never looking back. Williams outscored Albright in each quarter and won by their largest margin since an 80-48 win over Colby on January 18th. On defense, the Ephs held the Lions to just a 20-for-62 (32.3%) mark from the field, and held Albright to just seven points in the third quarter.
"That was a really great defensive performance," remarked Eph head coach Pat Manning following the tournament win. "It was such a solid team effort against a very good team in Albright. We played together, and that's what put us over the top."
Every game, a different player seems to step up for the Ephs. This time, it was Mikaela Topper, who scored a game-high 23 points on efficient, 10-for-17 (58.8%) shooting to go with seven rebounds and three steals. The 23 points tied a career-high for Topper. Guard Maggie Meehan '21, complemented Topper with 12 points of her own.
Manning was impressed by Topper's performance, commenting that the team "knew [they] wanted to play fast and get up and down" and that the star guard "did a great job pushing the pace." The Eph coach also praised Meehan's ability to space the floor and Chang's opportune shots. "Maggie attacked really well, and Emily hit some big threes that got us going."
For the Lions, forward Gabby Boggs recorded a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while guard Brady Wassel led the team with 15 points and 3 three-pointers. However, the Ephs held Dejah Terrell, the star Albright forward who has averaged over 22 points per game this season, to just three points on 1-of-15 shooting. The post defense – especially by Eph forward Maddy Mandyck '22 – played a key role in limiting Terrell's impact on the game.
In Manning's opinion, the quality of competition that the Ephs faced in NESCAC play this season prepared them well to play against an out-of-league star such as Terrell. "I think the NESCAC prepares us for games like this. That really helped us to be able to sustain that intensity.
In the first quarter, the two teams traded blows, with Williams taking a narrow 14-13 lead at the end of the quarter. The Ephs, however, began to pull away in the second, going on a 10-0 run and extending their lead to nine at the half.
The third quarter saw the Ephs dominate on defense, holding the Lions to just seven points. Albright held Williams to just ten points themselves, but the Ephs still took a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.
Williams only extended its lead in the fourth, exploding with 24 points on offense and blowing the game open by the middle of the quarter. The Ephs' largest lead – 22 points – ended up being the final margin.
Manning commented that teamwork and selflessness have been key reason behind both the Ephs' ability to play complete games and their sheer number of difference-makers on both sides of the floor. "We play for each other," said Manning on the excellent chemistry the team has built this season. "We don't have a single selfish player on this team."
The Ephs outrebounded the Lions 43-37, continuing their strong play on the boards this season despite the loss of forward-center Emily Peckham '20 to injury early in the season. Manning has emphasized Peckham's significant impact on the sidelines, which is certainly palpable considering that Mandyck and Katie Brule '20, who led the team with nine rebounds, have been playing excellent basketball lately.
Manning noted that during the week, the Ephs were focused solely on Albright and not on Ithaca or New England College. To prepare for either of those two teams, Manning promoted a consistent message: "We've just got to fight for 40 minutes, put the pressure on, and play with our usual intensity."
Tomorrow, in the second round of the tournament, the Ephs will play the host ithaca, who defeated New England College 72-54 with the tip-off for 5 p.m.