February 28, 2011

            The Middlebury College men’s basketball team won its second NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship with a 63-54 win at Williams in the title game. The Panthers earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will make their fourth consecutive trip to the tourney when they host a second round game Saturday night. The victory ties the Middlebury record for wins in a season, as the Panthers improve to 25-1, avenging their only loss of the season. The loss snaps a 34-game home winning streak for the Ephs, who fall to 25-2 and are expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

            The Panthers jumped out to an early lead over the Ephs.  At the 12:36 mark, sophomore Nolan Thompson (Akron, Ohio) hit a three-pointer from the right side and on the following possession had a long two from the top to put the Panther lead to eight at 16-8. The lead grew to 10 on two occasions, before Williams went on a 12-0 run to take a 22-20 lead with 5:14 remaining on a three from James Wang. Middlebury answered with a 7-0 spurt, eventually taking a 32-27 lead into the intermission. Thompson finished with 15 points in the game, all of them coming in the opening half.

            Middlebury extended its lead to nine before back-to-back threes from James Klemm and Harlan Dodson cut the lead to 36-33 at the 16:38 mark.

            Just under two minutes later, junior Ryan Sharry (Braintree, Mass.) backed down in the paint and finished to push the lead back to four after the Ephs finally cut it down to two. Hoping to give some momentum back to his Ephs, Whittington responded with a one-handed hoop before first-year player Joey Kizel (Short Hills, N.J.) took the ball the length of the court for an easy bucket. When Hayden Rooke-Ley drove to the hoop with 9:24 to play to make the score 46-44, Kizel responded yet again with a hoop of his own. After Sharry had a nice put-back off of a rebound to push the Panthers’ lead to six, the Ephs were forced to take their third timeout of the game.

            The lead was cut to four before a dunk from senior center Andrew Locke (Seattle, Wash.) and a three from sophomore Jake Wolfin (Woodcliff Lake, N.J.) gave the Panthers a 55-46 lead with 7:14 remaining. The Ephs made it a three-point game (57-54) at the 1:37 mark after a pair of free throws from Troy Whittington. Williams was forced to foul down the stretch, with the Panthers going 6-6 in the game’s final 43 seconds to seal the win.

            Thompson was one of four Panthers in double-figures, with Sharry adding 14 points and a dozen boards. Kizel finished with 13, while Wolfin added 11. Whittington netted 13 for the Ephs, while Wang added 12.  The Middlebury defense held the Ephs to just 31.5% shooting from the field.

            Middlebury advanced to the NESCAC Championship game for the third consecutive year after a 67-61 win over Amherst in a semifinal contest at Williams.

            Amherst led for 38:59 of the contest and was up 10 with 8:15 to play, but Middlebury would not go away. With 3:08 remaining Locke scored on a put back of a Thompson miss to cut the Amherst lead to two at 61-59. The Panthers tied the score with 1:49 remaining when Sharry collected his own shot that was blocked by Willy Workman and put it in off the glass.

            Kizel gave the Panthers their first lead of the game when he scored with a left-handed lay-up with 1:01 to play. With 40.8 seconds left, Sharry was fouled by Workman and knocked both shots down to put the Panthers up 65-61. Amherst was unable to score on three shots and with 8.2 left with Kizel sealing the game with a pair of late free throws.

            Ryan Sharry led the Panthers with a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Kizel also hit for double figures with 13.  Locked added nine points, seven boards and broke his own NESCAC Tourney record with seven blocks in the victory. Amherst was led in scoring by Connor Meehan with 18, Taylor Barrise, who scored 13 and Peter Kaasila with a dozen. 

            Middlebury out rebounded Amherst 49-38, including a 31-19 edge in the second half. The Panthers were victimized by nine turnovers and hitting on only 35% (9-26) of their shots from the floor in the first half. Amherst on the other hand hit on 48% of their field goals (14-29).   

            Middlebury trailed by as many as 18 in the first half, struggling with .346 shooting and nine turnovers. Trailing 38-24 at the break, the Panthers used a 10-3 spurt at the 15:43 mark and an 8-0 run  later in the half to cut the lead to 57-52 with 7:22 remaining.
• Men’s basketball record: 25-1
• Up next: 3/5 vs. Salve Regina/W. Conn. (NCAA Tournament) – 7:00