D-III Final Four trip at stake today for Taylor Epley, Williams men
SALEM, Va. -- Taylor Epley smiled when he thought of his last visit to the Salem Civic Center.
"Probably one of the worst moments of my basketball career," the Williams forward said.
It was two years ago in an NCAA Division III national semifinal between Williams and the College of Wooster.
In that game, the Ephs lost a 17-point lead to the Fighting Scots, but did get two chances to either win the game or send it into overtime. James Wang missed a 3-point shot, and Epley missed a lay-up at the buzzer to give Wooster a 73-71 win over the Ephs.
"No single play wins or loses a game. The fact that he got open to receive that ball - that was a difficult shot attempt," Williams coach Mike Maker said during Thursday's media day. "Even though it was a lay-up, it was an odd angle. He was a first-year player.
"I think he felt more responsible because of that senior class. He had a lot of affection and respect for Troy [Whittington]. He didn't want to be responsible for us not moving on for a chance at a national championship."
Epley and his Williams teammates are back here for an Elite Eight game against St. Thomas (Minn.), the team Williams would have played in the 2011 final had the Ephs been able to defeat Wooster.
The forward from Louisville, Ky., was one of Maker's first players off the bench that year. He was in the game at the end, in part, because Nate Robertson fouled out with 25 seconds left in the game.
Wang's 3-point shot went halfway down before spinning out. The ball deflected off a Wooster player with 2 seconds left, giving the Ephs one more chance. Epley took the pass and put up the off-balance shot that, to this day, he said he should have made.
"I remember, after I missed it, just running straight to our locker room and putting my head in my shirt," Epley said. "For about 30 minutes, I don't remember much -- just [being] pretty down in the dumps."
Since then, Epley has become a key cog in the Williams basketball success. He enters the Elite Eight as the top scorer among all eight teams here. Epley averages 18.6 points and 3.8 rebounds. His scoring average is just about a point-per-game better than teammate Michael Mayer and Amherst guard Aaron Toomey.
Epley got to Williams after playing in some camps with players bound for the Ivy or Patriot Leagues. Former Eph assistant Kevin App, who is now on the staff at the U.S. Military Academy, saw him.
Epley grew up a University of Kentucky fan in Louisville and said that it was a dream of his -- and every high school player in the state -- to play in Lexington. Now, he said he wouldn't have it any other way.
He went to Trinity High School in Louisville. One of the assistants on the Shamrocks' staff is J.T. Torra, who played for Ron Wojcik at Pittsfield High School before going to Keene State.
Epley is finishing his first year as a starter. He scored 26 points in last week's win over Virginia Wesleyan to give him 1,023 career points. Maker calls Epley one of the most talented players to wear a Williams uniform since he has been coaching.
For some players, missing a shot like Taylor Epley did as a freshman could haunt the player. Maker said the junior forward has handled success and setbacks with a similar amount of resolve.
Epley also understands that it's not often that a player gets a second chance like he's getting.
"I've learned from [the miss]," he said, "use it as motivation, and hopefully I get some redemption this year."
To reach Howard Herman:
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On Twitter: @howardherman.
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