The Williams College men’s basketball team’s run in the NCAA Division III Tournament ended earlier than coach Kevin App and the Ephs had hoped.
But considering where they had come from the season before, having a season was as important as what they did with it.
“I think we’re just about at the two-year anniversary where we had a team meeting and told them to enjoy an extended spring break. As a coach, I did not know that meant that some of these guys I wouldn’t see in person — most of the team — I would not see in person for another 15 months,” App said after Friday’s loss to Wabash in the Sweet 16 at Illinois Wesleyan.
“We definitely had a little trouble not playing basketball last year,” said senior forward Jovan Jones. “Our guys were definitely good about staying together. We lived together. Most of the guys didn’t go to school, but we somehow stayed together both of those semesters. During that time, we didn’t really take any time off. We worked hard and pushed each other, and that translated to the year we had.”
The year ended in Bloomington, Ill., with a 73-59 loss to Wabash in the Sweet 16. Wabash went on to beat host Illinois Wesleyan 81-75, to punch one of four tickets to the Final Four in Fort Wayne, Ind. Wabash will play Elmhurst in Friday’s second Final Four game. The first game of the doubleheader features Randolph-Macon and Marietta.
To call it an unusual year for App and the Ephs might be an understatement. The Ephs opened 9-0 and then went into finals and the Christmas break. As the first portion of the season ended, Williams had come from unranked to No. 20. The Ephs stayed in the D3hoops.com Top 25 the rest of the year, rising as high as 12, and heading into the NCAA Tournament ranked 22nd.
After the holidays, Williams missed three games due to COVID-19 issues, went 5-1 and then missed four more games due to more COVID issues.
“This year, we finally get going, we have some success in the first semester and our team is taking shape,” App said. “We always have high expectations at Williams, but they got to see just how good they can be. They came back super-excited after winter break. Every season is up-and-down emotionally. I think the highs and lows of this season for these guys, maybe I felt it more than they did, but as extreme as ever.”
“I think we have a really close team that loves each other. Over two different periods, we had a month where we couldn’t be together,” App continued. “Guys in the gym by themselves, or only six in the gym and everybody else in their dorm rooms by themselves. When you’re a close team, it’s really hard emotionally at those times.”
Williams will head into the 2022-23 season from a position of strength. Of the five starters, only Jones graduates. Of the nine players who played five or more minutes against Wabash, Jones is the only one who isn’t returning.
At one point, Williams played two sophomores (Nate Karren, Cole Prowitt-Smith) and three first-years (Brandon Roughley, Declan Porter, Evan Glatzer) on the court at the same time. Porter started 23 of the 24 Williams games, while Dalton native Roughley was one of the first players off the bench for the Ephs. He also led the way with 16 points in the Sweet 16 loss.
The top five, and six of the top seven, scorers all return for Williams next year.
Riley Robinson and her Springfield College women’s basketball teammates, like Williams, got to the Sweet 16. But that was where the Pride’s road to Pittsburgh came to an end.
Springfield, which beat Messiah and host Ithaca in the first and second rounds, went to Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., to play Trine in the Sweet 16. Trine beat the Pride 58-49. Robinson did not score, but pulled down four rebounds in four minutes of play.
Trine jumped out to a 35-19 halftime lead. Springfield made a second-half run, but it fell short.
Trine will play Hope College in the second game of the Final Four doubleheader on Thursday at Duquesne University. The first game features Amherst and Wisconsin-Whitewater. The D-III women’s championship game will be on Saturday.
The results weren’t a lot different for Isaac Percy, Mike Eurquhart and the UMass-Dartmouth Corsairs.
The Corsairs, who beat Emerson and Nazareth to reach the Sweet 16, ran into a buzzsaw in Virginia, losing to top-ranked Randolph-Macon 92-69.
In the Sweet 16, the Corsairs tied the game at 32-32 when Percy rebounded a missed jumper by teammate John Martins Jr., and scored on the put-back. The bad news for UMass-Dartmouth is it was outscored 12-2 the rest of the half, and wasn’t able to catch up.
The good thing for veteran coach Brian Baptiste is that both Percy (six points and two rebounds in 12 minutes in the game) and Eurquhart (one point, two rebounds in 11 minutes) are sophomores and will be back.