Men’s Hoops Opens Season with Two Wins

By Andrew Rigas

The Middlebury men’s basketball team began its season as well as it could have by winning the Ramada Roundball Invitational this past weekend, Nov. 15-16. On Saturday, the Panthers routed Mitchell College 101-71, setting up a matchup with the host University of New England in the final. The squad squeaked out a 69-67 win over the Nor’easters to capture the championship and extend its streak of tip-off tournament titles to seven consecutive years.

In the first game of the season, Middlebury had no trouble dismissing Mitchell behind the trio of Hunter Merryman ’15, Dylan Sinnickson ’15, and Matt St. Amour ’17 who combined to score 75 of the team’s 101 points.

After falling behind 7-4, St. Amour drilled a three-pointer and Middlebury never looked back, not trailing again and building to a 46-35 lead by the break. St. Amour led the team in scoring in the first half, tallying 17 points, while Sinnickson scored 11 points and rebounded 7 misses including a stretch of six points in less than two minutes that helped the team gain its first double-digit lead.

If the game wasn’t out of reach before the second half began, it was shortly after as the Panthers exploded out of the locker room with a 17-4 run, extending their lead to 27 points, 66-39, within the first four minutes of the second half. The team was firing on all cylinders offensively for most of the half, shooting a blistering 54.3 percent. Merryman led the charge, scoring 18 points in the half with four makes from behind the three-point arc, and guards Jake Brown ’17 and Jack Daly ’18 facilitated an offense that moved the ball exceptionally all night, each of them assisting eight baskets on the night.

Such a large lead also afforded Head Coach Jeff Brown the opportunity to rest his key contributors for the conclusion of the game in anticipation of the championship the following afternoon, which would prove very valuable.

Middlebury took the court on Sunday afternoon against the host to decide the championship of the opening weekend tournament. Sinnickson saw this game as a good measuring stick early in the season. “It was great that we were able to play the tournament host team, so there was a big crowd and a lot of energy in the gym,” he said. “It’s nice to be tested early in the season.”

Sinnickson and his teammates got exactly what they wanted. The teams see-sawed back and forth for the entirety of the first half, with neither team leading by more than five points and the lead changing eleven times, before Sinnickson converted a lay-up with 3 seconds remaining to give the Panthers a 34-32 lead and add to his team high 12 points going into the locker room.

Scoring runs marked the beginning of the second half as the Panthers opened up a seven point lead early in the second half, only to see the Nor’easters come storming back with an 8-2 run to bring the score to 42-41. Daly, co-captain Dean Brierley ’15, and Connor Huff  ’16 provided a spark off the bench and the next run, adding 2, 5, and 2 points respectively, to make it 52-45 in favor of the Panthers. However, once again  the game tightened up when the Nor’easters knotted it up at 54 with just under eight minutes left.

After that point, the lead was never more than three for either team. The two teams found themselves tied with each other at 67 with 16 seconds remaining when UNE’s Devin Thompson sank two free throws. With one possession to end the game in regulation, Coach Brown turned to his best player—and the best player in the tournament since he was named MVP of the event—the weekend in Sinnickson whose runner from the left side rebounded off the goal into the hands of Huff who laid the ball in as time expired to end the tension-packed game fittingly 69-67.

Although the Panthers didn’t shoot the ball well, only making 30.9 percent of their shots from the field and 17.4 percent of their triples, they were able to grind out a win by attacking the basket and playing stingy defense. Sinnickson, who missed all four of his three point attempts, echoes that sentiment, “I was still ready hit the three, but continued to drive to the rim, since I was getting to the basket well this tournament and they were in foul trouble in the first half.” UNE only shot 34.5 percent from the field and were held to 6 offensive rebounds and only 7 second chance points, while Middlebury rebounded 20 of their own misses and converted those into 16 points.

Middlebury will return to action again this weekend, Nov. 22-23, when it travels to Bridgewater, Mass. to do battle with Medger Evans, Bridgewater State, and Clark in the BSU Bears Invitational.