Basketball Drops Heartbreaker to Williams

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The Men’s Basketball team ended its season with a loss last Saturday night, March 11, to conference-rival Williams in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers finish the season with a 27-4 record.

It was Middlebury’s deepest run in the tournament since the 2010-11 season when they advanced to the Final Four. They were the first team in the program’s history to repeat as NESCAC champions, bringing the school its fourth conference title in Men’s Basketball.

NESCAC Player of the Year Matt St. Amour ’17 finishes third on the Middlebury all-time scoring list with 1,700 points. He also holds the record for most points in a season (676), most three-pointers made in a season (118) and in a career (255). Jake Brown ’17 finishes second on the all-time assist list with 552 and, along with Joey Kizel ’14, holds the record for most steals in a game with six. As a team, they set the school record for assists in a season (620) and points per game (87.2) — Head Coach Jeff Brown has called them the best passing team he’s ever coached. They may have been the best offensive team the school has seen.

“It’s been such a privilege to be a part of the Middlebury Basketball program,” said St. Amour. “At the end of the day our success is so much bigger than one team or one individual — it’s for the entire program. Hopefully the younger guys can use this experience, build upon it and continue the program that Coach Brown has built.”

“This was the most fun I have ever had playing basketball, and I’ve been playing since I was five,” said Jack Daly ’17. “This team brought the school and community together, and that is special. I am going to remember the crowd and the atmosphere in Pepin for all our games. This group of guys will always have a special place in my heart not only because we were successful but because they are my friends for life.”

On Friday, March 11, Middlebury defeated Endicott College 89-60, revenging their only regular season home loss. Brown had for 19 points and eight assists to no turnovers. St. Amour had a game-high 21 points.

Neither team could find the bottom of the net for the first five minutes on Friday, but Middlebury finally took control when Eric McCord ’19 hit a mid-range jumper, followed by a crafty layup by Brown. Endicott got their first points from forward Daquan Sampson, but Middlebury answered with a pull-up elbow jumper from Brown and a three-pointer from Daly to push their lead to 9-2.

For most of the first half, Endicott tried to have their guards drive into the lane to get their sharp shooters open looks on the perimeter, but their shots weren’t falling. Endicott missed their first eight shots, going 4-23 from the field at a 26.3 percent clip from beyond the arc.

Middlebury, meanwhile, couldn’t miss. Matt Folger ’20 gave the Panthers a boost when he checked in for McCord midway through the half. Folger banked-in a floater and sunk a three-pointer to put the Panthers ahead 14-6.

Brown took over at the tail end of the half, making another pull-up jumper at the elbow, two three-pointers and three free-throws after he was fouled taking a three.

“I was getting up extra shots [in practice] and my ankle has been feeling a lot better.” Brown said of his improved shooting from last weekend. “Tonight I had a lot of confidence in myself and my teammates did too.”

The Panthers closed out the half with Folger making a three-pointer above the break from a behind-the-back pass by Brown, leaving the score 48-24 as they headed to the locker room.

They didn’t slow down in the second half, opening with a 23-5 run to put the game away. They led by as many as 41 points with 11 minutes left.

“This has been our goal,” St. Amour said after the victory. “Coming here to compete for a national championship, to do it at home, in front of our community, all the students, has been really amazing. I don’t think we’ve played in a better atmosphere anywhere.”

Daly had a double-double, with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the process of setting the team’s single-season assist record with 180.

“It’s emotional playing in a game when you’re in the final 16 in the country and it felt like we were a little tight offensively early,” said Head Coach Jeff Brown. “We rushed some things, but getting stops was important for us and helped fuel our up-tempo game and [got us] out in transition.”

The Panthers’ run ended the next night in a nail-biter against Williams in a rematch of the NESCAC Championship game.

William’s looked like they had returned to the form they were in when they defeated the Panthers in regular season play. The Ephs shot 49 percent from the floor and 40 percent behind the line.

In what would be his final game, Daly gave the Panthers a herculean effort, tying his career high with 23 points — 3-6 threes and 12-16 from the charity stripe — and seven rebounds, all while registering four steals.

Middlebury opened the game with a 6-2 lead, giving up a layup to Eph forward Marcus Soto before Daly answered with a corner three. St. Amour followed with his only three-point make of the night — he went 1-9 — as the Panthers pushed their lead to 17-9. Daly then poked the ball away from a Williams ball handler before Brown collected it and delivered it to St. Amour in transition with a behind-the-back pass and the crowd went wild.

Williams guard Bobby Casey answered with a corner three. On the other end, St. Amour showed an elite move when he drove on Williams’ star Daniel Aronowitz before creating space with a step back jumper. St. Amour was focused on defense — in the space of a minute he forced a steal and flung the outlet pass to Brown who collected it at the last second and finished with a wild layup before getting another a steal that led to a Folger three-pointer.

Though Middlebury led 28-20, Williams began to claw back due to the efforts of forward Matthew Karpowicz, who gave the Panthers fits on the defensive glass, getting four points and three offensive rebounds in the four minutes he played in the half. With three minutes remaining, Williams’ Casey tied the game with a three-pointer before they went into the half up 39-37.

In a torturous second half, Middlebury started out strong with a three-pointer from Daly and a 9-2 run that put the Panthers ahead 46-41. The Ephs responded with a run of their own that was matched by back-to-back threes from Daly and Bryan Jones ’17 to settle the score at 60-59, advantage Williams.

The Ephs continued to shoot well, with Casey leading the way. He made another three to increase Williams’ lead before blocking a shot by McCord and then draining a three on the ensuing possession. The home crowd, accustomed to decisive wins, was unnerved for most of the half, only finding their loudest voices in the last five minutes of the game.

With six minutes left, Daly collected his fourth personal foul and St. Amour kept the Panthers in it by getting to the free-throw line and then making a layup. Though forward Kyle Skadlock made a three-pointer to bring the score to 77-68, free-throws kept the game close. With four minutes to go, the Panthers went nine-for-10 from the line and didn’t allow a Williams basket to bring the deficit to within two.

With 38 seconds left on the clock and Williams up 77-75, the Panthers fouled the Ephs’ Shadlock on the ensuing inbounds pass. Skadlock missed the first half of the one-and-one and Daly hurtled out in transition, driving right and missing the floater. Folger collected the offensive rebound but his put-back hit the back rim and jumped out. Daly fouled Marcus Soto, who made both his free throws, bringing the score to 79-75 with three seconds. All St. Amour could do was heave a desperation half-court shot which spilled out as the buzzer sounded.

The Panthers graduate St. Amour, Brown, Jones and Liam Naughton ’17.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better career and better teammates to share this experience with,” St. Amour said. “Basketball has given me so much in my life. It’s brought me to this school, given me the closest of friendships and taught me so many lessons throughout the years. This team was incredibly special, and we’ll be able to remember that success forever.”

Brown thanked the Panther faithful on behalf of the team.

“To the community,” he said: “you made these last two weeks amazing.”

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