Eastern Conn. St. Athletic Communications
The men’s basketball team entered the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak, desperately needing to regain the form it had earlier in the season. In each of the Panthers’ two games last weekend, they reestablished themselves immediately by jumping out to 12–3 leads, forcing their opponents to call early timeouts, en route to victories in the first two rounds of NCAAs. Middlebury defeated Lebanon Valley 83–63 on Friday, March 2, and beat Eastern Connecticut State 83–58 on Saturday, March 3, to move onto NCAA sectionals.
Jack Daly ’18 continued his magical season with his second triple-double of the season, and second in program history, against Lebanon Valley. Daly scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and assisted on 14 more baskets to lead the way on Friday, and tallied 11 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Middlebury’s second round matchup.
As one of the final 16 DIII teams left in the nation, Middlebury will play MIT at Ramapo College tomorrow, March 9, at 5:30 p.m. If the Panthers win, they will meet the winner of Ramapo and Franklin & Marshall on Saturday for an opportunity to play in the Final Four.
Middlebury’s first-round opponent, Lebanon Valley, entered the tournament on the heels of winning Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth with an 18–9 record. Coincidentally, Lebanon Valley played one Nescac team in the regular season, Hamilton, and lost to the Continentals 102–83, the exact same score of the Middlebury-Hamilton matchup.
On Friday, the Panthers could not have started the game any hotter than they did, getting out to a 10–0 lead just over two minutes into the first half by making their first four shots and forcing two turnovers. Daly assisted on the first three baskets, including on two transition baskets off turnovers, before getting one of his own to help account for Middlebury’s first ten points.
The Flying Dutchmen responded with a 19–5 run of their own to take a 19–15 lead. Back-and-forth the first half went, as Middlebury came right back to take a 26–22 lead. Lebanon Valley took another lead, 36–35, with 1:26 remaining in the first half.
With three of his big men facing foul trouble, head coach Jeff Brown turned to a four-guard lineup over the last two minutes in the half. Joey Leighton ’20 answered Brown’s call to his guards by hitting a three-pointer to give Middlebury a two-point lead. Then, Daly forced a Lebanon Valley turnover at midcourt, and finished off the half with a contested layup to put Middlebury in front 40–36 heading into the halftime locker room.
Ahead 50–46 almost seven minutes into the second half, Middlebury started to take control, going on a 10-point run to take its first double digit lead of the contest. Second-leading scorer Matt Folger ’20 sparked the run by scoring five straight points. After only scoring three points in the first half, Folger tipped in his own miss and then hit a three the next time down. Daly kept the pressure on the following possession by finishing a layup, forcing a Lebanon Valley timeout. Then, Leighton hit another three-pointer off a Daly offensive rebound to give Middlebury a 60–46 lead.
Lebanon stopped the bleeding temporarily with a three of its own next time down, but the Panthers kept extending their lead on the back of their defense and offensive ball movement. From the 14:38 to the 5:20 mark, Middlebury blew the game open. They extended their lead from a narrow four point margin, 50–46, to a 74–54 lead, which all but put the game away. The Panthers held the Flying Dutchmen to three of 11 shooting and forced four turnovers over that span of 9:18.
The 20-point margin would stay intact over the final 5:20, and Middlebury secured a 83–63 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
After a close first half, Middlebury ran away from Lebanon Valley in the second half, outscoring the Flying Dutchmen 43–27. Although the Panthers shot only two percentage points better than the Flying Dutchmen in the second half, they outrebounded Lebanon Valley 13–1, which led to Middlebury’s taking 18 more shots from the field.
Lebanon Valley’s leading scorer, Sam Light, who averaged 23 points per game this season, scored only 14 on Friday night, and only three in the decisive second half. Guard Jack Farrell ’21 had the assignment of Light for most of the night Friday night, as one of coach Jeff Brown’s quickest guards. Farrell and the Panthers knew if they slowed down Light they would be in very good shape to move onto the second round.
“Coming into the game we knew Sam Light was their guy, and that he could score from many different levels,” Farrell said. “It was all about putting everything I had into not letting him score the ball, or make other impactful plays. I knew I was quicker and a little bigger than him, so I tried to make sure he could feel me and know I was right there every time to get him out of his usual rhythm.”
Along with Daly’s triple-double, Folger added 14 points, and Eric McCord ’19 added 12 in 14 minutes off the bench.
As hot as the Panthers started on Friday night, their start on Saturday may have been more important. Eastern Connecticut State entered their matchup with Middlebury with a 26–3 record and a perfect 4–0 against Nescac opponents.
Middlebury came out in attack mode to take a 12–3 lead within the first four minutes of action. Eight of their first twelve points came in the paint, and the other four came on free throws. The nine-point lead forced Eastern Connecticut State to call a timeout, but that did not slow the tide. Middlebury continued to attack the basket with the drive and the pass, and to crash the boards ferociously. The Panthers built a 24–7 lead just over seven minutes into the first half.
From there, Middlebury slowed down offensively, and the Warriors started to make some shots. The home team cut the lead to 25–15, but could not get any closer in the first half.
Daly exited the game with 2:25 left in the first half with two fouls, opening the door for Eastern Connecticut State to make some headway into its 14-point deficit. But Middlebury’s supporting cast rose to the occasion to extend the Panther lead going into the halfway point. Ahead by 15, Max Bosco ’21 fought off some Warrior pressure to find Farrell on the wing for a three to give Middlebury a 46–28 halftime lead.
Only once did Eastern Connecticut State get closer than 18 points in the second half, less than two minutes in when two Warrior free throws made the score 47–30. Middlebury grew its lead to as many as 25 points, 73–48, with 7:04 remaining on its way to sealing an 83–58 victory.
Middlebury’s defense on its opponent leading scorer was crucial once more on Saturday. Tarchee Brown scored 19.4 points per game this season, but Middlebury held him to 12 points on four of 20 shooting.
“We knew Brown liked to shoot the three, so we tried to chase him over every screen and be right on him with high hands every time he caught the ball to make sure he wasn’t able to get off a good shot,” said Farrell. “Coach always tells us defense comes first and stops will turn into transition baskets. I think that’s what we did well this weekend as a team.”
Farrell led Middlebury in scoring with 19 points on an efficient five of nine shooting and seven of eight from the foul line.
“Coach Brown always stresses shooting with confidence and making smart plays,” Farrell said, when asked about his big scoring night. “I think that’s what I tried to go out there and do, have confidence in my ability to score, at a couple different levels. But I also think in the flow of the game I was given a couple opportunities to take a jumper or drive at my defender.”
Farrell was one of many Panthers who was aggressive in finding good shots. Middlebury outscored Eastern Connecticut State 46–28 in the paint, after dominating Lebanon Valley 42–18 there the night before. After failing to score above 68 points in their previous two games, the Panthers tallied eclipsed that total by 15 points in both games last weekend.
MIT, Middlebury’s next opponent, enters tomorrow’s matchup with a 24–5 record, having beaten Brockport and Johns Hopkins to get to the Sweet Sixteen. The Engineers won New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference to receive a bid to the tournament.
In the other sectional matchup, the sectional host Ramapo plays Franklin & Marshall. Ramapo (23–6) won the New Jersey Athletic Conference, and Franklin & Marshall (22–6) received an at-large bid after losing to Johns Hopkins in the Centennial Conference semifinals.