Middlebury dropped a thrilling 78-75 contest to Williams in the semifinals of the NESCAC Tournament at Amherst in LeFrak Gymnasium. The third-seeded Panthers fall to 17-9 for the season, while the ninth-ranked and second-seeded Ephs improve to 23-3.
With Middlebury shooting a blistering 64.5 percent (20-31) from the field and 71.4 percent (10-14) from three over the first 20 minutes, the Ephs clamped down following the intermission, limiting the Panthers to just 28.6 percent (8-28) shooting and an 18.2 percent (2-11) clip from behind the arc.
Building an early lead, Middlebury went up 10-6 with 17:23 on the clock on a Joey Kizel three-pointer. Battling back, Williams pieced together a 10-2 run over a span of three-plus minutes, carving out a 16-12 margin on a Taylor Epley trey.
Still down four with less than six and a half minutes to go in the first, the Panthers rattled off a 20-3 run over a stretch of 5:32. James Jensen got things going with a jumper at 6:24 before Jake Brown drained a three-pointer the next time down the floor. After a Jack Roberts layup, Kizel connected on another triple to stake Middlebury to a 40-34 edge.
Keeping the hot streak going, Brown hit a jumper at 2:46 before Michael Mayer ended a four-plus minute Williams' scoreless streak with a trey at 2:33. Roberts answered with another bucket down low before consecutive Kizel triples put the Panthers up 50-37.
Up 11 at the break, Dylan Sinnickson padded the Middlebury cushion with a layup at 19:17. Chipping away, the Ephs whittled the lead down to three over the next six-plus minutes. Mike Greenman got the rally started with a three-pointer at 17:47. Mayer then netted four-straight points before an Epley three made it 54-49. After a pair of Hunter Merryman free throws, Mayer drove the lane for two before Hayden Rooke-Ley hit a pair from the charity stripe to cap off a 14-4 Williams run.
A Brown jumper at 12:21 snapped a nearly five-minute Middlebury field goal drought, sparking an 8-2 spurt that had the Panthers on top 64-55. Coming right back, Williams scored nine unanswered in 2:58, pulling even with just under seven and a half minutes remaining in regulation.
Knotted at 70-70 inside of the three-minute mark, Mayer ducked into the paint and converted a three-point play the old-fashioned way to give Williams its first lead since the 6:24 mark of the first half. With Middlebury pulling back even on a Sinnickson free throw and Jensen jumper, Rooke-Ley drove baseline and drew a foul before knocking down a pair of go-ahead free throws with just 40 seconds on the clock.
Corralling a Kizel missed three on the other end Robinson helped complete the Eph comeback, going 3-4 from the line down the stretch. In the final seconds with Middlebury down by three, Kizel's desperation heave fell short.
Despite their second-half woes, the Panthers still managed to shoot 47.5 percent (28-59) from the field and 48.0 percent (12-25) from three. Shooting 41.1 percent (23-56) from the floor, the Ephs connected on 40.7 percent (11-27) of their three-pointers and 80.8 percent (21-26) of their free throws.
Mayer led all scorers with 27 points, knocking down nine of his 17 shots, while also grabbing seven rebounds. Rooke-Ley had 14 points and four boards, while Duncan Robinson was the only other Eph to score in double figures with 12.
Kizel paced Middlebury with 24 points and tied for game-high honors with eight rebounds. The senior guard connected on 8-18 field goals and 6-12 threes. Sinnickson finished with 14 points and five rebounds, while Merryman chipped in with 12 points and four boards.