January 7, 2013

The Middlebury College men’s basketball team stymied the up-tempo, full court-pressing Engineers of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) 105-86 in Pepin Gym. The Panthers, who never trailed in the contest, used a combination of crisp passing and spacing to get easy buckets with a solid half-court game, using their size to draw 24 fouls that turned into 26 points from the free throw line.

Middlebury opened the game on an 11-2 run, bookended by a pair of lay-ups by senior Peter Lynch (Westford, Mass.). The Panther lead hovered around 10 points for several minutes, eventually bulging to 14 on a three by senior Nolan Thompson (Akron, Ohio), for a 26-12 lead at 10:55. The Engineers responded with an 8-2 burst, capped by a lay-up by Jamie Zajak at 7:43, setting the score at 28-20. Middlebury built the lead back to 15 on three occasions over the next six minutes, before RPI closed out the final minute with a 6-2 run, with Zajak accounting for four points, cutting the Panther lead to 45-34 at intermission.

Junior James Jensen (North White Plains, N.Y.) led the Panther charge in the second half, opening with an 11-6 run with six points, a steal, an assist and an offensive rebound, giving Middlebury a 56-40 lead with 17:27 left to play. RPI kept the deficit around a dozen for the next 10 minutes before a 15-7 Panther run put the game out of reach at 94-75 with 4:55 left. Junior Jack Roberts (Moylan, Pa.) collected six points on lay-ups, while Jensen added four points from the charity stripe during that span. 

Thompson and Lynch each had 21 points for Middlebury, as Lynch added a game-best nine rebounds. Jensen chipped in a career-best 18 points on 5-10 shooting and was 8-8 from the line, with seven boards off the bench. Sophomore Hunter Merryman (San Marino, Calif.) added 14 on 6-9 shooting, while junior Joey Kizel (Short Hills, N.J.) chipped in 10 with six assists, as Kizel’s backcourt mate, senior Jake Wolfin (Woodcliff Lake, N.J.), passed out a game-best eight assists.

For the game, Middlebury held RPI to .388 shooting from the floor and 8-24 from behind the arc, including 0-9 in the first half. The Panthers were 26-33 from the free throw line, including 13-16 in the second half. This is the third game this season the Panthers have broken 100 points.

Second-ranked Middlebury topped host Bates 59-56 in the NESCAC opener for both teams.  Bates kept it close throughout the contest, as the Bobcats never trailed by more than six, and had a chance to send the game to overtime on the game’s final shot.

Kizel had game-highs of 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals to lead the Panthers. Thompson and Wolfin contributed 13 and 12 points apiece, with Thompson adding six boards and three assists. Thompson personally outscored Bates 8-3 over a four-minute stretch midway through the second half, including a trey that erased a 34-34 tie at the 11:42 mark and another at 9:49 that put the Panthers in front 40-35.

Graham Safford led Bates with 14 points, and Mike Boornazian added 12 points as the Bobcats stayed within six points of their rivals for the entire game. Boornazian made a pair of buckets and a pair of threes to lead Bates with 10 points in the half.

Kizel kept Middlebury going in the half with 10 points, two assists and two steals. After Bogdanovich made a baseline jumper to narrow the Panther lead to 42-41 with 7:41 left, Middlebury’s Lynch fed Jensen for a layup. A three by junior Nate Bulluck (Santa Monica, Calif.), set-up by Wolfin, prompted a Bates timeout, with the Bobcats trailing 47-41 with 6:43 to play.

At 2:52, Bates’ Safford made a three from the corner, cutting the deficit to one for the final time at 49-48. Kizel set-up Wolfin for a crucial three, then answered a hard-driving lay-up by Safford with a 15-foot jumper to make it 54-50 with 1:15 to go. Kizel and Wolfin both made pairs of free throws for a 58-52 Middlebury lead. After a Bobcat bucket with 19 seconds on the clock, Bates fouled Wolfin, who missed the front end of a one and one. Safford drove hard to the hoop for a basket with eight seconds to go to make it a 58-56 Panther advantage.

Kizel was fouled with 5.9 seconds left. Going to the line for a pair of free throws, Middlebury’s best free throw shooter at 84 percent, who was 4-4 from charity stripe, missed his first shot. Kizel responded and made the second, but the three-point lead gave Bates one chance to tie the game as the Bobcats launched a desperation three-point buzzer-beater from the corner that sailed over the rim, giving the Panthers the 59-56 win.

Middlebury overcame a 13-point second-half deficit and got a last-second block by Jensen to secure a 70-69 win at Tufts. They were led by 13 points apiece from Wolfin and Merryman. Tufts, which led 37-30 at halftime, saw Tom Palleschi score a game- and career-high 27 points in the loss.

The Jumbos trailed for just 20 seconds in the first half and led by as many as 13 points (37-24) after a traditional three-point play by Scott Anderson with 1:57 remaining. However, Middlebury got three-pointers from Wolfin and Thompson in the final 90 seconds to narrow the margin to 37-30 at intermission. Palleschi had 15 points at the half on 7-10 shooting. Seven points by Wolfin led the Panthers.

Tufts scored the first six points of the second half to open up a 43-30 advantage on a layup by Ben Ferris. Palleschi's hoop at 12:57 gave the Jumbos a 52-39 margin.

With Tufts leading 58-49, the Panthers initiated a 14-3 run that turned the game around. Six different Middlebury players scored during the stretch as they surged to a 63-61 lead on a layup by Jensen with 4:39 on the clock.

A layup by Palleschi tied the score at 63, but the Panthers scored the next five points and led 68-63 with 2:45 left. Palleschi continued to dominate with a layup making it 68-65, but Lynch responded for a 70-65 Panther margin. Jumbo Oliver Cohen's jumper closed it to 70-67 at 1:39.

Out of a Tufts time-out, Middlebury missed a lay-up that Palleschi rebounded. At the other end, his layup pulled the Jumbos within 70-69 with 24 seconds on the clock. Following another time-out, Jensen turned the ball over on Middlebury's next possession. However, he made amends by blocking a last-second Tufts attempt and Wolfin grabbed the rebound to win it.

Four Panthers scored in double digits overall, including 12 points each by Kizel and Lynch. Kizel added nine rebounds and five assists, while Wolfin and Thompson both recorded seven boards. Middlebury out-scored Tufts 15-6 at the line.

• Men’s basketball record: 11-0

• Up next: 1/11 vs. Conn. – 6:00, 1/12 vs. Wesleyan – 2:00