ITHACA, NY – Less than 24 hours after defeating Albright in the first round, the Williams Ephs (20-8) once again played an impressively complete game against the Ithaca Bombers (23-6), winning the contest 69-61 and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Bombers sprinted out to an early lead, but the Ephs quickly regained their composure and cut the halftime deficit to just one point. In the second half, Williams took the lead and didn't relinquish it after shooting a stunning 10 of 14 (71.4%) from the field in the third quarter. Nursing just a four-point lead, the Ephs put the clamps down in the fourth quarter, never allowing the Bombers to cut into the deficit.
"We started off a bit slowly, but when we relaxed and just played our game, everything else started falling into place," remarked Eph head coach Pat Manning following the victory. "We were reacting more to them than just playing our game. In the second half, though, we did what we do best."
The win gives the Ephs their first NCAA DIII Sweet Sixteen berth since the 2012-13 season.
"We are thrilled to still be playing this deep into March, and I'm so proud of our team and the way they're playing," said Manning. "This group is the epitome of a team, and I'm just thrilled that I have an opportunity to have another week with them."
The star guard duo of Mikaela Topper '21 and Maggie Meehan '21 shined once again, combining for 34 points and five assists. But the Ephs couldn't have won this game without standout performances across the board. Forward Maddy Mandyck '22 played an all-around brilliant game, stuffing the stat sheet with 10 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Guard Gabby Martin '21 and forward Morgan Dauk '21 combined for 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench, and guard Devin Biesbrock '23 played strong perimeter defense. Today's win was the epitome of the Ephs at their best: playing a selfless, complementary style of basketball that puts different contributors in the spotlight every game.
"Morgan, Devin, and Gabby off the bench were a tremendous boost to us," commented Manning on the bench's strong performance. "They made big impacts every minute they played."
Even the Ephs who didn't necessarily make a big impact on the stat sheet played better than the box score would indicate. Manning specifically pointed out guard Emily Chang '20, who "didn't have the best shooting night, but still shined on D."
The Bombers seized an early 16-8 lead, but the Ephs ripped off a 12-2 run to take the lead early in the second quarter. The two teams fought back and forth for the rest of the first half, and Topper's three with under a minute to go narrowed the halftime deficit to one at 30-29. The Ephs' two star guards – Meehan and Topper – led the way, scoring 17 of the Ephs' 29 first-half points.
The Ephs' remarkably efficient third quarter gave them the aforementioned four-point lead and a 23-18 advantage in the quarter. Though the Bombers consistently threatened in the fourth, the Ephs held them off, never allowing them to get within one possession. Williams played strong defense throughout, particularly in the second half, with Mandyck in particular crashing the boards and disrupting the Ithaca offense in the paint. "Maddy played great defense and earned a double-double," said Manning. "She's been playing her best basketball of the season."
Next Friday, the Ephs will continue tournament play against a familiar foe in Tufts, who are 28-1 on the year. The Jumbos' lone loss came to Bowdoin in the finals of the NESCAC Tournament. However, the Ephs have played the Jumbos close twice this season, and are especially motivated to be facing a NESCAC rival with an Elite Eight berth on the line. "We're playing at a really high level right now," said Manning. "Our players are confident, and this is the best that we've played all season. We're peaking at exactly the right time."