Taylor Epley and the Williams College’s men’s basketball team held on late to win their NCAA Division III tournament opener.
Taylor Epley and the Williams College’s men’s basketball team held on late to win their NCAA Division III tournament opener. (Gillian Jones / New England Newspapers)
Sunday March 3, 2013

WILLIAMSTOWN -- For most of Saturday night's NCAA Division III first-round men's basketball game, Wesley College was making Williams coach Mike Maker's pregame analysis come true.

In the days leading up to the game, Maker said the opening-round matchup was more like a Sweet 16 game. It lived up to the billing and then some.

Williams didn't get its first lead of more than a point until James Klemm scored on a 3-point play with 2:43 left. That gave the Ephs a cushion and they held off Wesley 79-78 Saturday night before an enthusiastic crowd in Chandler Gym.

"It certainly wasn't our prettiest game of the year. I thought we won ugly in a very gutty performance against a very athletic and disruptive team that has a high-profile player," said Maker. "I thought our guys dug down when it looked bleak when we were down 10. I told our guys that good teams win when you're not at your best."

That "high-profile" player was Paul Reynolds, who scored 26 of his game-high 35 points in the second half, hit a 3-point shot to make it a 1-point game. But there were only five-tenths of a second left after the shot and a Wesley time out. That was enough time to have Daniel Wohl inbound the ball to Klemm and the Ephs had the win.

The Ephs will wait to see if they host next weekend or travel.

"In NCAA play, we've only played in two places, Chandler and Salem [Va.], and I'd like for that to continue," Maker said. "We're hard to beat in Chandler. "

Taylor Epley scored 24 points for Williams, while James Klemm had 19 -- 16 in the second half -- and Michael Mayer had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

In addition to Reynolds, Quincy Pettiford had 13 and Eric Selby had 11. The Williams defense held 6-foot-8 center David Langan to seven points.

"It's a tough one to swallow," said Wesley coach Jerry Kobasa. "They made some huge threes down at the end. That kind of widened the gap a little bit. Maybe if we had another 10 seconds, we would have won it."

Williams trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, by 31-29 at halftime and fell behind 56-46 when Reynolds hit a trey with 11:15 left. It seemed as if each time Williams would look to make a run, the Wolverines had an answer.

This time it was Nate Robertson who had the answer for Williams. The senior point guard, who did not score in the first half, caught a Klemm pass and drained a 3-ball from the top of the key. That seemed to ignite the Ephs.

Williams took its first lead since early in the second half when Wohl missed a 3-point shot and Mayer dunked the rebound. The shot, however, that put Williams ahead for keeps came with 4:21 left in the game.

Mayer rebounded a miss by Reynolds and the Ephs quickly got the ball into the frontcourt. All five Ephs touched the ball as it rotated around the perimeter, but Wohl touch passed the ball to Klemm in the corner. The senior from Highlands Ranch, Colo., calmly drained his fifth trey of the half to put the Ephs up 67-66. From that point, they did not trail again.

"I just happened to be in the right spot. That's all a result of just having fantastic teammates who know how to play," said Klemm. "We share the ball so well."

The Wolverines came out and took it to the Ephs out of the gate. The game was less than four minutes old and Wesley led Williams 7-1. Reynolds scored 4 of his team's first seven points, both times getting inside the Williams defense.

The NESCAC runners-up didn't get their first basket until Klemm took a pass from Wohl and drained a 3-pointer with 15:56 left in the half. Williams shot only 9 of 24 from the field in the first half and made only three of those shots in the opening 10 minutes. Some of that was because of the physical Wolverines and some of it was missing open 3-point shots or layups.

The Wolverines took advantage of Williams' cold spell, upping the lead to 22-10 on a drive to the basket by Selby with 10:08 left. Things were looking good for the CAC finalists.

But Wohl knocked the lid off the Williams basket by scoring on a backdoor cut thanks to a nice pass from Mayer. That started a 20-9 run by the home team that got them back in the game as the first-half horn sounded.

In fact, Epley, who had a game-high 10 points in the first half, could have sent the Ephs into the locker room tied, but he only made 1 of 2 free throws with 19 seconds to play in the half.

Reynolds paced Wesley with 9 points, while 6-foot-8 center Langan had 7 points and 6 rebounds. Robertson committed 3 first-half turnovers, which is his per-game average.

The win was the 100th of both Robertson and Klemm's college careers.