WILLIAMSTOWN -- If the Williams College basketball teams win their respective NESCAC championships this weekend, the victories will be sweeter because they would win the titles on the home court of their biggest rivals.
Amherst College's LeFrak Gymnasium will host the men's and women's semifinals this weekend.
The second-seeded Williams men will play No. 3 Middlebury in the second game of the four-game series. The Ephs and Panthers will tip-off at 3 p.m., after the conclusion of the game between top-seeded Amherst and No. 4 Tufts.
The women's tournament semifinals begin at 5:30, with No. 2 Amherst hosting eighth-seeded Bowdoin. Bowdoin advanced with a 60-54 upset of top-seed Tufts last week. The third-seeded Ephs will play No. 4 Middlebury in the 7:30 p.m. finale.
The men's championship game is Sunday at noon, and the women's game is at 2:30 p.m.
This semifinal is a rematch of a Jan. 26 game in Williamstown that the Ephs won 64-63 on Daniel Wohl's layup with 31 seconds left in the game.
"We expect a conference semifinal game to be highly contested and it's going to be that," Williams coach Mike Maker said. "We'll have to play better against them this time than we did at home last time."
These two teams are as even as it gets. Williams and Middlebury are tied for second in points for at 79.5 and points against at 64.1 The Ephs lead the conference in field goal percentage (50.4) and Middlebury is second (49.8)
Going into the Wayback Machine, the Ephs trailed 41-38 at halftime and were down 63-56 when Middlebury's Nolan Thompson hit a 3-point shot with 4:21 left. From that point, the Ephs held the Panthers scoreless.
Taylor Epley hit a pair of free throws to make it 63-62 with 1:10 left to play. But with the clock running down, Michael Mayer stole the ball from Thompson and Wohl converted at the other end. Middlebury's Joey Kizel had a shot blocked by Nate Robertson with 8 seconds left and Hunter Merryman missed a trey with 2 seconds left, giving the Ephs the win.
Wohl, who had a bout of mono, was cleared to practice without contact early in the week. The sophomore swingman has not played since the Amherst game, and will be a game-time decision. James Klemm, who missed the Trinity game with an injury, is back and hit four 3-pointers in the quarterfinal win against Bates.
Epley (18.1 points-per-game) and Mayer (17.2) are two of the top five scorers in NESCAC. Middlebury's top scorer is senior Peter Lynch (15.1).
But a key to winning today could be the Williams' secondary scoring. Senior point guard Nate Robertson has had four consecutive double-figure game, including back-to-back 19s.
The Ephs are seeking their first-ever NESCAC title this year. Based on the seeds, the semifinals should have been at Tufts. But Williams coach Pat Manning said she isn't surprised her team isn't busing to Medford for the weekend.
""The eighth seed was sort of weird because of the tiebreaker. [Bowdoin] definitely [wasn't] a typical eighth seed," said Manning. "They lost to Wesleyan by a point, otherwise they would have been the fourth seed at home."
Middlebury, Bowdoin, Wesleyan and Bates were the four 4-6 teams that qualified for the tournament. Trinity and Connecticut College were on the outside looking in.
When Williams and Middlebury played in January, the Ephs held the Panthers to 15 points in the first half and won 62-36. Claire Baecher led the Ephs with 20 points, while Middlebury's Tracy Borsinger (14) was the only Panther in double figures.
The Ephs are second in NESCAC in team defense, giving up 44.4 points per game. They are tops in field goal percentage defense (28.4) and field goal percentage on offense (41.6). The Eph defense is 7 points per game better on defense than the second-best total under Manning.
"We really preach defense. We talk about defense and we have starters and kids off the bench that play great ‘D'," Manning said. "That's what this team is all about."
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