With six seconds remaining, Matt Folger ’18 grabbed an offensive rebound, dribbled to the three-point arc, and launched a three that bounced off the back of the rim, ending the men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament run and its 2018 season last Friday, March 9. Middlebury lost to MIT 79–76 in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. For the third straight year, the Panthers’ season ended with a loss in the NCAA tournament by four or fewer points in games that could have gone either way.
Seniors Jack Daly ’18, Adisa Majors ’18 and Nick Tarantino ’18 have all been a part of those three NCAA teams, including last season’s run to the Elite Eight, and two Nescac champion teams. After a 21–7 season as senior captains, Daly, Majors and Tarantino finished their Middlebury careers with an 83–29 record. They were parts of the first team to win back-to-back Nescac championships and the team that won 27 games last season, the second-most in program history.
For the third straight game, Middlebury threw the first punch on Friday evening, taking a 12–5 lead in the first six minutes of the game. In a game shaped by counterpunches, the Engineers responded with a 13–0 run to go ahead by six. But the Panthers came right back to score 13 out of the next 15 points and led 25–20 with 7:15 left in the first half.
Tied at 34, Daly set up a Folger three with three seconds remaining in the half, sending Middlebury to the locker room up 37–34.
The Panthers held the Engineers to below thirty percent shooting from inside the arc in the first half, as Folger rejected six shots, but MIT stayed in the game by hitting seven out of 17 threes from beyond the arc.
Jack Farrell ’21 stayed hot after scoring 19 in Middlebury’s win in the second round of the tournament, tallying 12 on five of seven shooting in the first half on Friday.
Over the first eight minutes of the second half, every time MIT got within two points, Middlebury answered to keep the Engineers at bay.
But, at the 11:31 mark, MIT tied the game at 54 and then at 57 less than two minutes later. The Panthers rebuilt their lead to five, 67–62, but then the Engineers made their move, scoring the next eight points to go ahead by three.
Farrell drilled a three to tie the game, then MIT went ahead by five to take a 75–70 lead with 3:50 remaining. Middlebury held MIT in check over the next two possessions, but could not score either until the 1:48 mark when Daly laid the ball in to cut the lead to three.
After an Engineer miss and a Folger rebound, Middlebury pushed the ball down the court and Daly finished in the lane to cut the lead to 75–74 with 54 seconds remaining. Out of their own timeout, the Engineers held the ball, but turned it over with 25 ticks left on the clock, as Farrell stole it.
Jack Daly ’18 got the ball and drove it into the lane, where he lofted a floater that rolled off the rim. MIT rebounded the basketball and made two free throws to take a three-point lead. Daly drew a foul at midcourt and sank two free throws, but MIT responded with two makes from the line. Behind 79–76, Daly missed the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled, which was the rebound Folger grabbed to launch Middlebury’s final chance.
In a game featuring four lead changes and seven ties, neither team led by more than seven points. In the second half, the lead was never greater than five—at no point in the second half were the two separated by more than two possessions. But some team had to win and MIT scored when it needed to most, outscoring Middlebury 17–9 over the final 7:10 to eke out a 79–76 victory over the Panthers.
For the second straight season, Middlebury came within four wins, they were within three last season when they made the Elite Eight, and lost in the last minute of each game, making the loss especially emotional for the Panther seniors.
“The closer you get to goals, like winning a national championship, the more crushing it is when you nearly miss achieving it two years in a row,” said Tarantino. “As a result, I think it’s been an emotional couple of days for all us.
“Nevertheless, I’m so proud of all we’ve achieved this year and over my last four years.”
The two Jacks led the Panthers on Saturday, as Daly scored 21 points and nabbed 13 rebounds, and Farrell added 15 points on three three-pointers. Folger tallied nine points, seven rebounds and six blocks.
Daly finished his career atop Middlebury’s career assist leaderboard with 611, and set the school single-season record this year by tallying 237. He also scored 1,067 points, placing him seventh in program history in that category, and grabbed 649 rebounds. Daly is believed to be the first player in Nescac history to tally 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists.
Head coach Jeff Brown has coached many of the best players in Middlebury men’s basketball history, including 1,000-point scorers Matt St. Amour ’17, Joey Kizel ’14, Ryan Sharry ’12, Ben Rudin ’09, Nolan Thompson ’13, Greg Poulos ’98, Jake Wolfin ’13, and Nate Anderson ’04. And now Daly, who Brown considers to be one of the best players he has ever coached an one of the best in program history.
“Jack will go down as one of the best players ever to play at Middlebury,” said Brown, citing Daly’s senior season as one he will never forget. “He is the only player in the history of NESCAC basketball to accumulate 1000 points, 600 assists and 600 rebounds. He started his senior season with a triple double vs Fitchburg State and had one in our first NCAA game vs Lebanon Valley. He led the country in total assists this season.”
Brown knows his point guard’s skill on the court propelled him to a tremendous career in the blue and white, and that Daly’s drive to win had just as much to do with his individual and their team’s success.
“He is one of the most passionate players that I have ever coached,” Brown concluded.
Majors and Tarantino also played their last game in the Middlebury uniform on Friday.
Majors’ career took off in his sophomore season when he burst into the Panthers’ rotation, starting 11 games and averaging 7.2 points per game in 16.1 minutes. He started 19 games his junior year, while averaging a career-best 9.6 points per contest in 23.2 minutes. Majors embraced coming off the bench in his senior season, playing five fewer minutes per game but still averaging 7.6 points per game on 52.4 percent shooting.
Majors was one of Brown’s many big men who powered Middlebury to the Sweet Sixteen. Coach Brown recognized how important he was to Middlebury’s success this season.
“Adisa made strong contributions the last three seasons,” Brown said. “He provided us with inside scoring and made a lot of medium range jump shots. This season his 15-foot jump shot on the baseline against Bowdoin with 5 seconds left was the game winner. He developed into a great passer for us.”
Tarantino, along with Daly and Majors, was a team captain this season and Middlebury’s starting center. After sitting behind more experienced Panthers his first two seasons, Tarantino started 18 games last season and all 28 games this season. He averaged 6.8 points and six rebounds in his junior year, and career-bests 7.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks this season.
Brown is proud of his Tarantino’s, and all of his seniors’, selflessness on and off the basketball court.
“Nick started every game for us in his senior season,” said Brown. “He provided inside scoring, rebounding and good defense at the rim. He was able to create a spark for us with an exciting dunk or block. He was very active and athletic on the court and very unselfish.”
Majors and Tarantino also left their marks on the Middlebury record book, as this year’s team set Middlebury’s single-season rebounding mark by grabbing 1,329. Tarantino secured 6.8 rebounds per game, while Majors corralled five.
As much as Middlebury will miss its three seniors, they will miss being Panthers just as much. Being a part of coach Brown’s team meant much more to Daly than what happened on the court.
“Basketball has been a huge part of my life at Middlebury, and my best friends have all played on the team,” said Daly after Friday’s loss. “That is the unique part about continuing to play at the college level. It’s led me to relationships that I may never have created and has led me to people I may never have met. I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with everyone these last four years, players and coaches.”
“I’m sad to say my basketball career is over, but my passion for it will never stop,” said Tarantino, echoing his classmate’s sentiments. “I’ve taken away so many life lessons from the sport and have met many close friends through it. I have all the gratitude in the world for my teammates and coaches for making these past years the best four of my life.”
Ending their collegiate careers with a loss was certainly difficult for Daly, Majors and Tarantino, but they know their final loss neither represents their careers as a whole nor clouds their memory of their awesome times at Middlebury.
“We’ve had so much success during my four years, from winning back-to-back Nescac championships, to hosting NCAA tournament games, to making the Elite Eight and the Sweet Sixteen,” Daly said. “I can proudly say that I left everything all out on the court and have no regrets, which is why I can keep my head held high because there is nothing more I could have done.
“Obviously it’s sad to not have your last game be a win, but life goes on, and you have to be able to reflect on the good times because they clearly outnumbered the bad times we’ve had on the court.”
Once again, Middlebury will be hard-pressed to replace its three outgoing seniors who helped guide the Panthers to consistent success over their four years here. But Daly knows Middlebury will be in the good hands of his teammates and coaches.
“I wish returners nothing but the best of luck, and I know they will continue to keep this program at a high level,” Daly concluded. “The future looks extremely bright.”