The Panthers split their four conference matchups sandwiching February break, dropping a home game against Williams and a road game at Hamilton, over the weekend of Feb. 1. However, the following weekend the Panthers rebounded with two victories at home against Colby and Bowdoin on Feb. 7 and 9. In between, Middlebury took to the road and bested Keene State on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Middlebury played possibly its most impressive half of basketball all season against eleventh-ranked Williams, scoring 41 points and holding the Ephs to just 25 first-half points. Hunter Merryman ’15 opened the scoring for the Panthers, hitting his first three shots and tallying 11 points in the first 13 minutes of play.
The fast pace early favored the Panthers, who shot 50 percent from the field in the opening half, torching the Ephs’ mixture of 2-3, 1-3-1 and man-to-man defenses.
Dylan Sinnickson ’15 led Middlebury with 12 points on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc in the first half, many of those looks coming off of pick-and-roll sets with Joey Kizel ’14, a play that the rest of the NESCAC has yet to effectively defend.
“The Williams game was a tale of two halves,” Head Coach Jeff Brown said. “Offensively we attacked their 2-3 zone very effectively, but we weren’t as successful against their man-to-man defense in the second [half].”
After the break, Williams began to cut into the Middlebury lead on the strength of its three-point shooting. Senior forward Taylor Epley made a handful of threes from NBA range, a shot that NESCAC Freshman of the Year candidate Duncan Robinson replicated. Trailing by three with five seconds left, the Panthers ran an in-bounds play from the sideline to get Sinnickson a three-point look, but his shot was contested and bounced off the iron, giving Williams the victory.
In Coach Brown’s record-setting 434th game as head coach, Middlebury lost to Hamilton College on a last-second jumper on the road on Sunday, Feb. 2. Assistant Coach Russ Riley, who preceded Brown, led the Panthers from 1978-97 and previously held the record.
The Panthers were hamstrung by poor shooting in the first half, hitting only 10-33 shots from the field, while the Continentals poured it in at a nearly 42 percent clip, taking a five point lead into the half.
Hamilton opened the second half of play on a 12-3 run to go up by 14. The Continentals were carried in the second half by sophomore guard Matt Hart, who scored 21 of his game-high 30 points after the intermission. Toward the end of the contest, Hart hit three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to give Hamilton the lead.
“When a player gets hot like that the only way to stop him is to not even let him touch the ball,” James Jensen ’14 said, “I think it was pretty clear to everyone in the gym who Hamilton wanted to take the last shot of the game.”
Kizel tied the game with two free throws with 29 seconds remaining. On the following possession, Jensen denied Hart the ball, forcing Hamilton senior Greg Newton to take the final shot. Newton made the go-ahead bucket with six seconds left, giving the Continentals a 76-74 lead. Middlebury was unable to get a clean look at the basket on the other end, Newton’s shot thus sealing the contest in favor of Hamilton.
Kizel racked up 19 of his 22 points in the second half on 5-10 shooting (8-9 FT), including nine points in the final three and a half minutes. Merryman, Matt St. Amour ’17 and Jensen joined Kizel in scoring double figures for the Panthers.
The Panthers celebrated the class of 2014 on senior night at home against Colby with a convincing 85-64 victory on Friday, Feb. 7. Heading into the game, both teams had three wins in the conference, so the win brought Middlebury one step closer to hosting a first-round NESCAC tournament game.
After the ceremonies concluded, Kizel poured in 30 points, matching a career high. The senior guard was successful hitting threes in transition, and nearly earned a double-double, racking up nine assists to go along with five rebounds and two steals.
Jack Roberts ’14 led the Panthers with seven boards. Sinnickson aided the Panther attack with 20 points and six rebounds.
Middlebury took a 5-2 lead 2:17 into the first half and never looked back.
“The Colby game was the first time this year where we played two great halves and really put a team away,” Sinnickson said. “That’s the only way games are won.”
Middlebury played its last regular season home game against Bowdoin and squeaked out a 69-66 victory on Sunday, Feb. 9. Both teams impressed offensively in the first half, and the lead never stretched beyond five points either way in the first 20 minutes. The Panthers shot 48.1 percent in the first half, but were outshot by the Polar Bears, who shot 52.2 percent.
Roberts, who stands 6’8”, had a tall order on Sunday afternoon, drawing John Swords, Bowdoin’s seven-foot center. Swords is the most efficient scorer in the NESCAC, shooting at a 70.1 percent clip, and averaging 13.8 points per game to go along with 9.2 rebounds per game.
“Covering someone that size is always difficult,” Roberts said. “We had a plan to limit his touches and we executed it well.”
Swords surpassed his averages with 16 points and 13 rebounds on Sunday, but Roberts did a great job of fronting Swords and limiting his open looks at the hoop. Roberts was one of four Panthers in double figures (10), joining Jensen (10), Sinnickson (18) and Kizel (19).
With his seventh point of the afternoon, with 12:21 remaining in the first half, Kizel moved into fifth place on the Middlebury all-time scoring list, passing Ryan Sharry ’12. Kizel, with 1424 career points, is 75 points away from reaching third place on that list. John Humphrey ’88 is the all-time career scoring leader with 1844 points.
Middlebury’s largest lead came with 18:45 in the second half when a three-pointer from Sinnickson put the Panthers up by eight. The game remained close to the bitter end. Both teams traded free throws down the stretch, until Jensen went 1-2 with :08 left to give Middlebury a 66-63 lead. Bowdoin called a timeout, its last, with :05 left, giving the Polar Bears an inbounds place from the sideline. The ball came in to Matt Mathias who found his teammate Grant White in the left corner. White drained a three-pointer with :02 on the clock to tie the game.
The Bowdoin bench tried to call a timeout, but with its final timeout having been used seconds earlier, the Polar Bears were dealt an administrative technical foul.
“The whistle blew and I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Brown said.
Kizel made three free throws down the stretch, and Jensen blocked the last-second heave from Mathias, sealing the Panthers victory.
Between the two weekends of NESCAC play, the Panthers picked up 92-86 road win at Keene State on Tuesday, Feb. 4, in which Sinnickson recorded a double-double with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Kizel had 23 points of his own, Merryman had 14 points to go along with six boards, and Jensen tallied 10 points.
Unfortunately, the win came at a significant cost. St. Amour tore his right ACL in the first half, ending his season. St. Amour played in 20 games, starting nine, and averaging 9.2 points per game.
Middlebury will finish conference play this coming weekend with road games at Trinity and Amherst. The Panthers currently sit in third in the NESCAC, and a win in either game will secure a home game in the first round of the NESCAC tournament.