NCAA Men's Basketball Headed To Elite 8

March 21, 2013

The Middlebury College men’s basketball team has earned a spot in the elite eight for the second time in the last three seasons. The Panthers will travel to Salem, Virginia to take on North Central (Ill.) in an NCAA Quarterfinal game on Friday, March 22nd at 8:00 p.m. Three games will proceed Middlebury’s contest, with the winners advancing to the final four on Saturday night. The two teams emerging from the weekend will take part in the NCAA Championship game on April 7th at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Ga. Tickets for this weekend's games will be available at the door in Salem.

Last weekend, seniors Jake Wolfin and Nolan Thompson each went 6-10 from three-point range to lead the Panthers to a 73-72 win over Ithaca in an NCAA sweet 16 game before a sold out crowd in Pepin Gym. Ithaca scored late to take the lead, before junior Joey Kizel was fouled coming up the floor. The Panther junior knocked down a pair with 1.8 seconds remaining to give his team the win. Wolfin and Thompson each netted a game-high 20 points to lead Middlebury. Kizel finished with 13 points and a team best five assists, while junior James Jensen chipped in nine points and five rebounds off the bench. Senior Peter Lynch scored eight points with six boards and five assists. Middlebury finished the game shooting 47.9% from the floor, while connecting on 14-25 (.560) from long range.

In their second-round game at Cortland, Middlebury earned a 67-63 road win. The Panthers took a 36-27 lead into the halftime break by scoring 19 of the half’s final 23 points. Middlebury extended its lead in the second half before the Red Dragons went on a 17-2 run to take a 55-48 lead. The Panthers chipped away and won the game with some solid free throw shooting down the stretch. Kizel finished with 22 points on 7-12 shooting with four assists, while Jensen netted 13 with a team-high 11 rebounds. Lynch added 10 points in the win, while Thompson scored eight.

In their first-round win, Middlebury never trailed as they earned a 68-66 win over Curry in Pepin Gym. Curry cut the Panther lead to one several times in the second half, but could not overtake Middlebury. Lynch led Middlebury with 17 points on 5-10 shooting from the field and 7-8 from the line, while Kizel and Thompson each netted a baker’s dozen. Wolfin had a game-high six assists and team-high nine rebounds, as Kizel chipped in five helpers. Junior Jack Roberts finished with a game-best five blocks in 25 minutes of action to go along with six boards.

Middlebury is making its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, earning an at-large bid after falling in the NESCAC semifinals. The Panthers had advanced to the NESCAC title game in the previous four years, with championships in ’09 and ’11.

Middlebury is 9-5 in NCAA play, earning their first bid in ’08. Middlebury advanced to the second round in ’09 before hosting a regional in ’10 where they fell in the finals. The ’11 season was a record-breaking one, as the Panthers advanced to the final four before falling to St. Thomas in the semifinals. The following season, the team hosted and won an NCAA Regional, falling in the round of 16 in a sectional they hosted on campus.

Middlebury has dropped just three games this season, two of them coming in overtime and the other by a point on the road. The Panthers were ranked seventh in the final regular season D3Hoops.com poll. Middlebury is second in the NESCAC with a .744 free throw percentage, third with 78.5 points and a .491 field goal percentage, while ranking fourth with a .389 percentage from behind the arc.

Thompson is the NESCAC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and recently earned second-team All-NABC Northeast honors. He has been a defensive stalwart throughout his four seasons at Middlebury and consistently shut down his opponent on the defensive side of the floor. He is third on the team with 12.6 points/game, while ranked second with 5.2 rebounds/contest. The first-team All-NESCAC selection shoots 49% from the floor and became a 1,000-point scorer earlier this season.

Kizel is a two-time first-team All-NESCAC selection, who became the third player this season to surpass the 1,000 point plateau late in the season. He is second on the squad with 14.2 points/contest, while his 4.3 assists/game are second on the team and fifth in the NESCAC. Kizel paces the squad and is second in the league with 1.7 steals/game, while shooting 49.8% from the floor.

Lynch has taken great strides this season and is second in the league and sixth in the country with a .629 field goal percentage. Lynch paces the team in scoring with 15.0 points/game, and in rebounding with 5.3 boards/contest.

Wolfin is the school’s all-time assists leader with 549. He averages 9.2 points game and also joined the 1,000-point club earlier this season. Wolfin’s 5.0 assists/game leads his team and places him fourth among his NESCAC peers.

Roberts leads the NESCAC in blocks with 2.3/game from his center position. He also averages 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds/game while shooting 58.3% from the floor.

Jensen and sophomore Hunter Merryman both see quality time off the bench. Jensen averages 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds/game, while Merryman is scoring 8.5/game, shooting 49.5% from the floor. His .435 shooting percentage from behind the arc places him seventh in the NESCAC.

Jeff Brown is now in his 16th year at the helm of the Panthers (257-157), having previously served as the Bates bench boss for three seasons. He has led the team to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances with a combined record of 146-25 in that time. The team has also won a pair of NESCAC Championships (’09 & ’11) under his tenure, with Brown earning NESCAC Coach of the Year honors in ’09, ’11 and ’12.

A 1982 graduate of the University of Vermont, Brown scored more than 1,000 points and earned induction into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame during his Catamount basketball career. He is 10th on the all-time scoring list (1,336 points), second in steals (170), seventh in assists (428), eighth in field goals made (526), and ninth in free throws made (284). While playing at UVM, Brown averaged 12.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. He spent three years as the top assistant basketball coach at Manhattan College in New York, before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach for nine years (1985-94).

2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament
Quarterfinals, Friday, March 22nd – Salem Civic Center – Salem, Va.
St. Thomas (29-1) vs. Williams (26-4) – 12:00 p.m.
Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-5) vs. St. Mary’s (27-3) – 2:30 p.m.
Amherst (27-2) vs. Cabrini (25-5) – 5:30 p.m.
Middlebury (25-3) vs. North Central (27-3) – 8:00 p.m.

Semifinals, Saturday, March 23rd – Salem Civic Center – Salem, Va.
Top two winners – 6:00 p.m.
Bottom two winners – 8:30 p.m.

NCAA Championship, Sunday, April 7th - Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Ga.