Men’s Basketball Misses Oppotunity to Wrap Up Nescac, Will Head to Wesleyan for Quarterfinal

By ANDREW RIGAS

The men’s basketball team’s 10-game winning streak was snapped last Friday, Feb. 9, when the Panthers fell to Hamilton 102–83, in Clinton, New York. In a crucial game for Nescac seeding the next night at Amherst, Saturday, Feb. 10, Middlebury lost to the Mammoths 80–68. After sitting atop the conference standings entering the weekend, the Panthers fell into a five-way tie for first place and lost the tiebreaker because of their 1–3 head-to-head record with the other teams, dropping them all the way down to the fifth seed in the Nescac tournament.

In Middlebury’s loss on Saturday, Jack Daly ’18 became the 23rd Panther in program history to score 1,000 points. Daly has accumulated 1,002 career points, 611 rebounds and 579 assists, and is believed be the first player in Nescac men’s basketball history to tally 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists.

“Jack is a unique player,” said Head Coach Jeff Brown on Tuesday. “He has the ability to impact a game in so many different ways with his scoring, passing, rebounding and defense. His mental and physical toughness is at an elite level. The fact that Jack is the first NESCAC player to reach 1000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists shows the impact that he has had in our success.”

A week earlier in a 75–56 victory over Colby, the Panthers’ star player became Middlebury’s all-time assists leader, surpassing Jake Wolfin ’13’s record of 553 helpers. He leads all of DIII this season with 8.7 assists per game.

Middlebury will travel to Middletown, Connecticut, for their quarterfinal matchup with Wesleyan this Saturday, Feb. 17, which will mark the first time the Panthers have had to play a conference tournament quarterfinal game away from Pepin since 2004.

Middlebury had two chances to clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, the first coming on Friday at Hamilton. Middlebury entered the matchup 7–1, while Hamilton was 6–2 in second place. The Continentals led by as many as nine points in the first half after going on an 8–0 run to go ahead 32–23. But the Panthers responded with an eight-point run of their own to pull within one. At the end of the first twenty minutes, Hamilton led 38–32.

Middlebury struggled with turnovers in the first half, giving the ball away 12 times compared to Hamilton’s six.

The Panthers kept pace with Hamilton the first nine and a half minutes of the second half, staying within six. But then the Continental offense took off, hitting four straight threes to take an 11-point lead, 73–62. Middlebury cut the lead to single digits a couple more times, but Hamilton’s attack was too much in the second half. The Continentals scored 64 points in the final 20 minutes to defeat the Panthers 102–83.

Hamilton’s Kena Gilmour scored a career-high 29 points on 10 of 15 shooting, including four of four from three. The Continentals’ shooting from beyond the three-point line carried them to victory, as they knocked down 15 of 24 threes after making only eight per game before Friday.

Eric McCord ’19 led the Panthers with 21 points coming off the bench. Matt Folger ’20 scored 17 while hitting four threes, and Daly added 15 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.

With the win, Hamilton moved into a tie for first place with Middlebury, but controlled their own destiny heading into the last game of the regular season by beating the Panthers.

Entering the last game of Nescac play on Saturday, Middlebury, Hamilton and Williams sat atop the Nescac standings, one game ahead of Amherst and Wesleyan.

Ahead 16–14 a little over seven minutes into the first half on Saturday afternoon, Amherst went on a 16–0 run to take a 32–14 lead at the 7:20 mark in the first half. The Mammoths hurt the Panthers with offensive rebounding all afternoon, and half of their 16 points in this game-defining run were second chance opportunities.

Over the final 7:20, Middlebury outscored the Mammoths by three but still trailed 43–28 at halftime.

Middlebury could never get much closer either, only trimming the lead to single digits with around a minute remaining in the game, 75–66. McCord got the Panthers within eight, but Amherst hit four free throws to secure an 80–68 win.

Middlebury shot 35.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three on an afternoon when the Panther offense never got going, scoring its lowest total of the season. Amherst hurt the Panthers inside, where the Mammoths outscored the Panthers 42–30. The hosts also scored 17 more second chance points than the visiting Panthers, 22–5, and outrebounded the visitors 60–34.

Jack Farrell ’21 scored a career-high 22 points for Middlebury, and Nick Tarantino ’18 also finished in double digits with 11 points. Daly had a tough day from the field, making only two of 15 shots on the afternoon when he scored his 1,000th career point.

The Panthers’ hopes at hosting the Nescac semifinals were dashed with the losses to Hamilton and Amherst, and with those hopes also went any playoff game in Pepin Gym. But Middlebury still finished in a tie for first place with a 7–3 record in conference. And as Coach Brown pointed out, “I am going remind our guys that two years ago, we lost our last two regular season games on the road and won the NESCAC Tournament. We will put last week’s results in our rear-view mirror.”

Now fifth-seeded Middlebury will travel to Wesleyan on Saturday, Feb. 17, to play the fourth-seeded Cardinals at 3 p.m. Earlier this season, on Jan. 6, Wesleyan beat Middlebury 80–70 but led by only three with 47 seconds remaining. With the win, the Cardinals snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Panthers dating back to the 2004-05 season.

Wesleyan lost two of its first three Nescac games, but won six of its last seven to finish in the five-way tie for first in the standings.

The Cardinals had the third-stingiest defense in Nescac play, allowing only 65 points per contest. They’re led by junior guard Jordan Bonner, who averages 15.6 points per game, and have four other players averaging at least seven points per game. Senior forward Nathan Krill averages 11.9 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range.

The Panthers tip off in Middletown on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

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Men’s Basketball Misses Oppotunity to Wrap Up Nescac, Will Head to Wesleyan for Quarterfinal