WILLIAMSTOWN -- Overtime in playoff basketball is senior time. Saturday afternoon, Taylor Epley stepped up and because of that, the Williams men are now in the NESCAC semifinals.
Epley scored 10 of his 14 points in overtime and the second-seeded Ephs survived a scare from No. 7 Tufts, beating the Jumbos 87-77 Saturday afternoon at Chandler Gym.
Tufts had a chance to win the game in regulation, but freshman center Hunter Sabety bricked the second of two free throws with 3.1 seconds left, sending the game into overtime.
Epley scored eight of Williams’ first 10 points in overtime and Tufts never recovered.
"With my production last year, I was one of our go-to guys and even if my shots are off, I still have to keep making plays," said the senior forward from Louisville, Ky. "That’s what I did in overtime. I’m glad I could accomplish that."
Epley had come into overtime having shot only 2 of 7 from the floor. He put the Ephs ahead for keeps when he got the ball after Williams center Mike Mayer won the tip and scored on an old-fashioned 3-point play. That gave the Ephs a 70-67 lead, and the Jumbos never led again.
"Taylor’s a warrior," said Williams coach Mike Maker. "He’s a senior and he’s an All-American. He made plays off the bounce to his dominant hand that gave us some separation."
It was a double bonus for Williams on that play because it turned out to be the fifth foul on Sabety. The 6-foot-8 freshman was, in Maker’s words, a "beast" inside, scoring 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking four Williams shots.
Without him, the Jumbos had no real inside presence at either end.
"That was a huge blow," said Tufts coach Bob Sheldon. "He’s our only big guy inside who could score."
Mayer had a game-high 30 points for Williams (22-3) as all five starters scored in double figures.
Freshman guard Mike Greenman helped send the Ephs into overtime by scoring his team’s final five points en route to a 14-point afternoon. Greenman drained an NBA 3-point shot from the top of the key and hit a tough pull-up jumper from the left side, giving the Ephs a 67-66 lead with 9.8 seconds left.
The Jumbos missed a 3-point shot but Sabety was fouled on the putback. He made the first, missed the second, and overtime was next.
"Tufts was playing us hard the whole game. It was a close game, back and forth," said Greenman. "When you get towards the end of the game, you’ve got to really get within yourself and say we’ve got to take control of this game.
"It never really happened until really late."
Tufts led by as many as seven points in the first half and held a 32-31 advantage at the break. The 31 points were the fewest scored by Williams in the first half since the Ephs played at Stevens Institute of Technology on Feb. 4. The Ephs won that game 83-68, but wouldn’t pull away in this one until the extra period.
There were 10 lead changes and three ties in the second half. Williams’ biggest lead in the second half was four points, and that came on a 3-point hoop by Hayden Rooke-Ley with 13:35 left.
Rooke-Ley, who broke his left (shooting) hand on Jan. 18, made his return to the Williams lineup and finished with seven points.
Also scoring in double figures for Williams were Duncan Robinson and Daniel Wohl, who had 10 points each.
Stephen Haladyna, the reigning NESCAC player of the week, had 20 points, while Ben Ferris had a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
With the win, the Ephs will now play Middlebury on Saturday in a NESCAC semifinal at Amherst College. The top-seeded Lord Jeffs earned the right to host the conference Final Four by beating No. 8 Colby 82-72. Amherst will face Trinity, a triple-overtime winner over Bowdoin.
"I didn’t think we were at our best today, but I’d like to give a lot of credit to Tufts. They’re a very athletic and physical basketball team, which are the teams that give us the most problems," said Maker. "I didn’t like the matchup. I thought our guys competed as well as we have all year long."
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