AMHERST -- The message is pretty clear when it comes to playing the Williams College men's basketball team -- you better get them in 40 minutes, because those next five belong to the Ephs.
The second-seeded Ephs outscored No. 3 seed Middlebury 11-4 in overtime and advanced to the NESCAC Tournament championship game with an 87-80 win over the Panthers in the second semifinal game Saturday.
Michael Mayer, one of five Ephs to score in double figures, was 6 for 8 from the line in the overtime and broke an 80-80 tie on a pair of free throws with 57 seconds left in OT. Mayer had a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds.
It's a position the junior from Durham, N.C. said he likes to be in.
"I think I do. Coach has us shoot a lot of free throws in practice," said Mayer. "I'm pretty confident going up there that I can knock them down if I need to."
The win puts the Ephs into their third NESCAC title game in the last four years. The Ephs will play top-seeded Amherst, after the Lord Jeffs beat No. 4 seed Tufts 80-64. Peter Kaasila had 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half for the nation's No. 2 team.
"We're very thankful to be in this position and we're looking forward to getting another chance to go up against a really good team in Amherst," said Eph point guard Nate Robertson, who scored 14 points and had eight assists. "We're going to go back tonight and start preparing."
Joining Mayer in the double-figure category was Daniel Wohl, who scored 19 points off the bench, James Klemm (14), Taylor Epley (13) and Robertson. Peter Lynch had 23 points and 12 boards for Middlebury.
Williams entered Saturday's game as the No. 7 team in the latest D3hoops.com Top 25 and Middlebury was fourth. The game befit the status of these teams in Division III basketball.
There were 12 lead changes in regulation and the largest lead in the game was the 37-30 halftime lead for Williams.
Twice in overtime, Williams took a lead, only to have Middlebury come back and tie the game. The last tie came at 80-all.
Mayer went up for a shot on the Ephs' next possession was fouled by Jack Roberts, and Mayer made both shots. Williams never trailed again, improving to 3-0 in overtime games.
"We like our chances in overtime," said Mayer.
The Panthers came out strong in the second half and cut the seven-point lead to one on a 3-point shot by Kizel with 15:54 left. Three minutes later, Lynch rebounded a 3-point miss by Jake Wolfin, scored on the put-back and it was tied at 48. The game was on.
"We talked about it because that's what they do," Williams coach Mike Maker said of Middlebury's run. "We beat an outstanding basketball team today. They're tough-minded, and they've been involved in big games themselves."
The Ephs nursed a 1-to-3 point lead down the stretch, and when Taylor Epley drove to the basket for two, Williams was up 76-73 with 1:31 to play.
Middlebury coach Jeff Brown called time out, set up a play for Wolfin, who drained a 3-ball with 58 seconds left, tying the game.
Williams had two chances to win the game in regulation, but Daniel Wohl missed a layup and Epley turned Kizel over, but the Ephs couldn't get a last shot off. That set the stage for overtime, and the Williams win.
"I told the kids before the game, we have to play with our hearts, our minds and with a competitive spirit," said Maker. "That's exactly what we do. We have good players that play freely. They love the big stage."
A stage that gets bigger this afternoon in the NESCAC title game.
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