March 2, 2009

The Middlebury College men's basketball team captured its first NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship as the Panthers earned a 77-68 victory over Amherst. The Panthers improve on their school record with their 24th win of the season against just three losses. Middlebury earns the NESCAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will make their second straight appearance in the tourney when they host a game on Saturday. Amherst falls to 21-6 overall and is in good shape to receive an at-large bid. The win avenges a loss in the regular season finale at Amherst for Middlebury, also snapping a seven-game losing streak against the Jeffs. Middlebury has now won NESCAC Championships in 16 different sports.

A packed house of 1,200 fans were on hand in Pepin Gym, to watch the Panthers move to 13-0 on the season at home. Amherst came out strong, jumping out to a 10-4 lead in the game's first 2:37 behind a three from David Waller and five points from Brian Baskauskas. A trey from Middlebury's Ben Rudin (Scarsdale, N.Y.) and a pair of free throws by junior Tim Edwards (Greenwich, Conn.) cut the lead to 10-9 at the 16:49 mark.

The Lord Jeffs surged and went on an 8-0 run over the next 1:45 to take an 18-9 advantage. Five points from Baskaukas, including a three, and a dunk from Mike Holsey sparked the run. Middlebury chipped away and cut the lead to three behind a pair of hoops off the bench from rookie Ryan Sharry (Braintree, Mass.). A three from Taylor Barrisse made it a 23-17 Amherst lead before a 7-0 run put the Panthers on top 24-23 on a three from sophomore Ryan Wholey (Pelham, N.H.) with 9:29 left in the first half. Middlebury went on an 8-0 spurt at the 4:13 mark to take a 42-32 lead, before Amherst closed the first half on a 5-0 run to trail 42-27 at the intermission. Baskaukas had a big half for the Jeffs, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

The Panthers opened the second half strong, extending their lead to 49-39 on a tip-in by senior Aaron Smith (W. Hartford, Conn.) with 17:54 remaining. The lead extended to a game-high 11 points, as Sharry converted a three-point play after an offensive rebound to make it a 53-42 lead at the 13:15 mark.

Amherst would not go away, answering with a 10-0 charge that began with a hoop from Jeff Holmes with 11:14 remaining. Middlebury turned the ball over four times during the run that gave the Jeffs a 55-54 lead on a bucket from Conor Mehan with 9:42 left to play. Middlebury regained the lead on its next possession, as sophomore Jamal Davis (Brooklyn, N.Y.) picked up a steal before converting a three-point play to give the Panthers a 59-57 lead.

With the game tied at 65 with 4:11 remaining, the Panther defense held Amherst scoreless for a 3:02 span, taking a 73-65 lead on a Rudin jumper with 1:27 remaining. The Lord Jeffs answered with a three from David Waller, but went 0-3 in the final minute, as the Panthers hit four of six free throws to seal the win.

Rudin led the Panthers with 18 points and nine rebounds, setting a new NESCAC Tournament record with 77 points. Sharry tied a career-high with 15 points along with six boards, while Smith scored 11 with nine off the glass. Edwards added eight, senior Kyle Dudley (Scarsdale, N.Y.) scored seven, while sophomore Andrew Locke (Seattle, Wash.) blocked three.

Baskauskas finished the game with 17 points after 14 in the first half, to go along with his game-high 14 rebounds. Waller scored 14, Meehan had 13 points and seven assists, while Holmes netted 11.

Middlebury advanced to the finals after a 76-46 thumping of Bowdoin in the semifinals. Rudin scored six of his career-high 30 points early as the Panthers held a 6-5 lead. The Polar Bears took a 13-11 advantage on a three from Paul Sellew at the 8:44 mark, but would not make a field goal in the game's next 6:44. Middlebury went on a quick 10-0 run with 5:35 left in the half, sparked by back-to-back threes from Edwards and Dudley, taking a 29-14 advantage. The Panthers entered the halftime break with a 30-18 lead, behind 15 points from Rudin.

Middlebury opened the second half hitting a red-hot 13 of its first 15 shots (.867) from the floor through the first 10 minutes of play, taking a 29-point lead. A 13-0 run in the span was the difference, as four different players scored, including two hoops apiece from Rudin and Sharry.

Bowdoin answered the run with a 9-0 spark as Mark Phillips hit a pair of buckets to make it a 59-39 game with 7:37 remaining. The Polar Bears would come as close as 19, but the Panthers kept coming, extending the lead to 76-46 at game's end.

Bowdoin struggled all afternoon from the floor, shooting .207 in the first half and .279 in the game. The Panther defense also forced 18 turnovers on the afternoon, scoring 23 points off those mishaps.

Rudin's game-high 30 points led Middlebury, while Dudley scored 11 on 5-8 shooting from the floor. Smith added nine points and six rebounds, while Sharry scored nine with seven boards. Phillips paced Bowdoin with 14 points and seven boards.
. Men's basketball record: 24-3
. Up next: 3/7 vs. St. Joseph's (Maine)/Bridgewater St. - 7:00