WILLIAMSTOWN -- For the fourth time in five years, the Williams College men's basketball team has reached the NCAA Division III Sweet 16. This time, however, the Ephs needed to dig out of a seven-point hole at halftime to do it.
Freshman guard Mike Greenman hit three consecutive 3-point baskets to open the second half and scored 13 of his 16 points in the final 20 minutes as the Ephs rallied to beat Gordon College 81-63 in the tournament's second round on Saturday night.
"Everyone always talks about how the first five minutes in the second half are the most important," said Greenman. "We came out with a lot of energy, played pretty good defense and I was open. I hit the open shots."
All five Williams starters scored in double figures. Daniel Wohl led the way with 18 points, while Greenman and fellow freshman Duncan Robinson had 16 each. Mike Mayer had 13 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games and Taylor Epley added 10 points.
Williams will play Albertus Magnus in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. The New Haven, Conn., school beat SUNY-Purchase 72-59. The rest of the pod includes Mary Washington and Virginia Wesleyan. A decision on a host school will be made today.
Williams fell behind by seven points just 5:15 into the game, trailed by as many as nine before going into the locker room down 38-31. Greenman's three treys put the Ephs back in the game and Williams took the lead for keeps when Epley drove past Gordon's 6-foot-9 center Hans Miersma for a hoop.
"This group is really special because when their backs are to the wall, we seem to get a lot better," said Williams head coach Mike Maker. "The bigger the challenge, the better we play."
Just last Saturday, Williams rallied from a 11-point halftime deficit against Middlebury to beat the Panthers and reach the NESCAC title game.
Williams held Gordon to only 25 points on 31.2 percent shooting in the second half.
Saturday night, the Fighting Scots gave Williams all it could handle in the first half. They held Williams to 31 points; the fewest Williams had scored in a first half since getting 25 on Jan. 31 at Middlebury.
The Fighting Scots (18-11) came into the game shooting 33 percent from 3-point range as a team, but they were 6 of 11 from outside the arc as they took a 38-31 lead at halftime.
Williams, meanwhile, made only 11-of-30 shots in the half and missed 9 of 12 from 3-point range.
"I thought it was one of our poorest performances from an energy standpoint defensively," said Maker. "Offensively, we were out of sorts. We weren't cutting hard. We weren't playing freely. I basically stopped trying to control everything. I got out of the players' way."
Wohl gave the Ephs a little energy when Gordon's Park Thomas missed a shot, Mayer rebounded and Wohl took it coast-to-coast as the horn sounded, cutting Gordon's lead to seven points.
Then to open the second half, Greenman caught a pass from Epley for a trey, and made one from the left corner off a Gordon turnover and all of a sudden, it was 38-37. That forced Gordon coach Tod Murphy to call time out with 18:53 left.
One minute later, Greenman gave Williams its first lead of the game at 40-38 on a trey. Jason Dempsey tied the score, and Epley then put the Ephs ahead for keeps when he drove past Miersma and put up a left-handed layup.
But it was the play of the freshman point guard from Linwood, N.J., who gave Williams the momentum and awoke the near capacity crowd in Chandler Gym from its first-half lethargy.
"It's a luxury coming out in the second half and one minute into it, you go from being down seven to down one in a couple of possessions," Wohl said. "He's not afraid of the moment. Although he's a first-year, he's wise beyond his years and he's not afraid of [taking] his shot."
Williams opened the second half with a 14-2 run. When Gordon cut the lead to 50-47 with 12:35 left, the Ephs went on a 13-3 burst to put the game away.
Park Thomas led the way for Gordon with 15, but only two in the second half. Miersma had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, while Alex Carnes added 10.
"They're a very talented team. A very tall team with tremendous skill players. We showed a lot of heart and played hard in the first half, and I think we caught them off guard a little bit," said Gordon coach Tod Murphy. "They hit big shots when they needed to. They made plays when they needed to. Our guys did everything they could."
To reach Howard Herman:
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On Twitter: @howardherman.