Middlebury reaches Sweet 16 for first time
Middlebury advanced to the NCAA Sectionals for the first time, after a 79-53 win over Western Connecticut State in a second-round game. The second-ranked Panthers set a new school record with 26 wins in a season, against just one loss. Middlebury will next meet Rochester in the sectionals on Friday, March 11th, while Buffalo State battles St. Mary's (Md.) in the other sectional contest with the site to be determined by the NCAA on Monday. The No. 23 Colonials finish their season with a 22-6 mark. The game was played before a sold out crowd of 1,200 in Pepin Gymnasium.
Middlebury jumped out to a 15-6 lead five minutes into the game, using seven points from Ryan Sharry to get the early advantage. WestConn answered with a 7-0 spurt of their own, including a three-point play from John Phillips at the 13:12 mark to make it a 15-13 contest. Leading 17-15, the Panthers went on a 10-0 run over the next five minutes, taking a 27-15 lead on a three from Sharry with 6:48 remaining. The lead hovered around double-digits, and moved to 33-23 on a great alley-oop dunk by Andrew Locke with an assist going to Joey Kizel at the 3:36 mark. Middlebury led by as many as 15 before taking a 40-28 lead into the halftime break.
The Panthers held a 24-16 first half advantage on the boards, holding the Colonials to 1-6 from three-point range and .355 from the floor. Middlebury shot .484 in the first session, connecting on 5-8 threes. Sharry scored all of his 16 points in first half, also grabbing nine boards.
Middlebury opened the second half with a quick 5-0 spurt behind a hoop from Nolan Thompson and a three from Jake Wolfin. Rob Bentil answered with a pair of buckets for WestConn to make it a 47-32 game with 15:32 remaining. The Panthers led by 18 with 9:12 remaining, going on a 9-2 run to put the game out of reach. A hoop and a pair of free throws 30 seconds later from Thompson made it a 70-45 game with 4:34 left. The lead grew to as many as 28 on a late three from C.J. Caputo, before the Panthers closed out the game with a 79-53 win.