Men's Basketball Set to Battle Williams in NESCAC Semis

February 27, 2014

Middlebury will look for its third NESCAC Championship when it continues postseason play on Saturday, March 1st at 4:00 p.m. The Panthers will battle Williams in a semifinal match-up at Amherst in LeFrak Gymnasium. Middlebury (17-8, 6-4 NESCAC), the tournament’s No. 3 seed earned NESCAC titles in 2009 and 2011 and has posted an impressive 12-3 tournament mark over the last five years. Middlebury won six-straight games in the middle of January, and has won 11 of its last 14 including last Saturday’s 81-77 victory over sixth-seeded Hamilton in Pepin Gym. To advance to Sunday’s championship game, the Panthers must get past the Ephs who moved on to the semis with an 87-77 overtime victory last Saturday over seventh-seeded Tufts.

The opening game of the doubleheader will feature the top seed and host Amherst against fifth-seeded Trinity at 2 p.m. That game will be followed by a matchup between second-seeded Williams and third-seeded Middlebury at 4 p.m. Semifinal winners will square off in the conference final on Sunday at noon with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament up for grabs.

Tickets for each day will be $5 for adults and $2 for students. Streaming video will be available for all three games through the Northeast Sports Network (NSN) at nsnsports.net/NESCAC. Live statistics will also be available.

The first semifinal contest pitting Amherst (22-3, 9-1 NESCAC) against Trinity (15-10, 5-5 NESCAC) will showcase a pair of contrasting styles. Amherst locked up the top seed for the third-straight year by putting up a league-best 85.2 points. Since seeing their 25-game conference winning streak end on January 31 after an 80-75 loss at Colby, the Lord Jeffs are unbeaten in February with a six-game winning streak. Last season, Amherst edged Williams, 74-73, in the title game to hoist its sixth NESCAC trophy en route to winning its second NCAA championship. The Lord Jeffs aim to win three consecutive conference titles for the first time in program history as they took home top honors in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2012 and 2013.

Sophomore Connor Green (Bedford, N.H.) helped the Jeffs avenge their regular-season loss to Colby in the quarterfinal round when Amherst handed the Mules an 82-72 loss on Saturday. The guard went 9-of-17 from the floor en route to a game-high 23 points, which was well above his season average of 18.3 points. First-year David George (Philadelphia, Pa.) also posted a double-double with 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. The high-powered Jeff offense goes through reigning NESCAC Player of the Year, senior point guard Aaron Toomey (Greensboro, N.C.). Toomey has improved his overall production from a year ago as he has dished out a league-high 6.28 assists per game. He also ranks second in the conference in scoring (20.2) and steals (2.08). Joining Toomey and Green in double figures are seniors Tom Killian (Summit, N.J.) and David Kalema (Burke, Va.), who average 14.4 and 12.1 points, respectively. 

Trinity boasts one of the top defenses in the league, limiting opponents to the second-fewest points per game (60.7) on 36.6 percent shooting from the field. One way in which the Bantams have kept their opponents off the scoreboard is by allowing one shot each possession. Trinity paces the NESCAC in rebounding margin (+9.8) and has three of the league’s top ten rebounders on its roster. Two of those players, sophomore Shay Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and junior George Papadeas (Athens, Greece), posted double-doubles in the Bantams’ triple-overtime 71-67 thriller over fourth-seeded Bowdoin on Saturday. Ajayi finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Papadeas came off the bench to record 15 points and 10 rebounds. However, it was sophomore guard Jaquann Starks (Hartford, Conn.) that proved to be the difference in the game. Starks scored eight points in the final four minutes of regulation and five points in the third overtime en route to a game-high 21 points. 

Trinity has made three appearances in the conference finals with the most recent coming in 2008 when it defeated Bowdoin for the title. In the other two contests, the Bantams lost to Amherst, which owns a 5-0 record against Trinity in the postseason. This season, the Jeffs defeated the Bantams, 67-61, on January 25.

Saturday’s second semifinal will feature second-seeded Williams (22-3, 9-1 NESCAC) and third-seeded Middlebury (17-8, 6-4 NESCAC). The Ephs came out on top of a back-and-forth affair in the quarterfinal round with an 87-77 overtime victory over seventh-seeded Tufts. Senior center Michael Mayer (Durham, N.C.) poured in a career-high 30 points, while senior forward Taylor Epley (Louisville, Ky.) also chipped in 10 of his 14 points during overtime. The Ephs are second in the NESCAC in scoring (84.0) and lead the league in field goal percentage (.507), three-point field goal percentage (.406) and free throw percentage (.753). Mayer paces the team with 17.8 points and 8.3 boards, while first-year Duncan Robinson (New Castle, N.H.) has burst onto the scene averaging 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Junior Daniel Wohl (La Canada, Calif.) has dished out 76 total assists to go along with 13.4 points per game, while Epley is averaging 13.5 points.

Middlebury punched its ticket to the semifinal round with an 81-77 win over sixth-seeded Hamilton on Saturday. The Panthers held a 22-point advantage in the second half, but had to fend off a Continental rally for the win. Junior Hunter Merryman (San Marino, Calif.) came up with 17 points in the game, while senior Joey Kizel (Short Hills, N.J.) and junior Dylan Sinnickson (Sands Point, N.Y.) contributed 14 and 12, respectively. Kizel is one of the top offensive players in the league, scoring 16.3 points and distributing 5.68 assists per game. Sinnickson and Merryman also average double-digits in the scoring column, as Sinnickson posts 16.5 points and Merryman posts 12.3 points. The Panthers also have one of the conference’s top shot blockers in the paint. Senior Jack Roberts (Moylan, Pa.) ranks third with 2.48 rejections per game.

The squads have squared off in each of the last four NESCAC Championships, including last year’s 87-80 overtime semifinal victory for Williams. In six previous tournament meetings, the series is knotted at 3-3. Williams is pursuing its fifth overall NESCAC title after having previously won in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2010, while Middlebury is looking for its third title in six years following championship wins in 2009 and 2011. Earlier this season, the Ephs handed the Panthers a 64-61 loss on January 31.

Results for the NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship will be available at the completion of each day on the NESCAC website.

2014 NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship

Quarterfinals – Saturday, February 22 (at Higher Seeds)
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 8 Colby, 82-72
No. 2 Williams def. No. 7 Tufts, 87-77 (OT)
No. 3 Middlebury def. No. 6 Hamilton, 81-77
No. 5 Trinity def. No. 4 Bowdoin, 71-67 (3OT)

Semifinals – Saturday, March 1 (at Amherst)
No. 5 Trinity at No. 1 Amherst – 2:00 p.m.
No. 3 Middlebury vs. No. 2 Williams – 4:00 p.m.

Championship – Sunday, March 2 (at Amherst)
Semifinal Winners – 12:00 p.m.

---Courtesy NESCAC---