For the first time since 2018, the Williams College men are 40 minutes away from a NESCAC basketball championship.
Spencer Spivy scored a season-high 20 points and was one of three Ephs to score in double figures as the Ephs rolled to a 78-61 win over Middlebury in one of two NESCAC semifinals played at Wesleyan.
A 3-point basket by Jovan Jones midway through the first half gave Williams the lead that it did not relinquish. It started a 23-9 explosion that covered the final 10 minutes of the first half. While the Panthers played Williams even in the second half, that margin proved to be way, way too much for Middlebury to come back from.
"The work hasn't paid off yet — we still have one more to go — but we feel really good about where we are," said Spivy in a release. "It's satisfying to get to the championship, but the job's not finished."
With the win, the fourth-seeded Ephs will play top-seed Wesleyan at high noon in a Sunday showdown for the NESCAC championship and the automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament. The Cardinals held off seventh-seeded Trinity 70-67.
Sunday's game will be the rubber match between Williams and Wesleyan. Each team won on the other's home court.
The last time these teams met in a NESCAC championship game was back in 2018, when Williams won the title with a 69-58 win. That game was played at Amherst College after the Cardinals upset the Mammoths in the semifinal round.
"If you had told me after that moment that we were able to shut down for two and a half weeks and not practice with our full team, I wouldn't have known how much better we could get," Williams coach Kevin App said after the game. "Over the last couple of weeks, we've been able to get in some practices and big wins over Amherst and Middlebury, who we respect a lot. I think physically we're back to where we were at that point, and now we're getting the mental and emotional part."
It would, however, seem that both Williams and Wesleyan are sure bets to make the NCAA Tournament field. Through Saturday, so-called bid thieves have been few and far between. So Williams and Wesleyan could just be playing to see who would earn home court advantages for the first four games of the 64-team tournament field.
While only seven Ephs played double-figure minutes, each one of those seven made contributions to the victory. Spivy had five assists to go with his 20 points. Cole Prowitt-Smith had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Nate Karren had 11 points and eight boards.
First-years Brandon Roughley of Dalton and Declan Porter each scored nine points. Roughley was 3 for 3 from the field, 1 for 1 from 3-point range, and had two rebounds. Porter was 3 for 4 from 3-point range.
As a team, Williams shot 13 for 27 from outside the arc.
The Williams defense was on point throughout the game. The Ephs held Middlebury to 32.9 percent shooting from the floor (24 for 73) in the game, 9 for 34 in the first half. While Williams was spot on from behind the arc, the Panthers were a frosty 1 for 15.
A jumper by Middlebury's Sam Stevens gave coach Jeff Brown's team a 13-11 lead with 11:04 left in the half. Jones had a drive to the basket blocked by Thomas Zodda, but a charge against Middlebury's Lucas Shin gave the ball back to Williams.
On the ensuing possession, Porter did not shoot, passing to Jones who made the 3-pointer, and the Ephs never trailed agin.
Williams led 37-19 at halftime and by as many as 22 points in the second half.
Alex Sobel led Middlebury with 19 points and Stevens had 18.
"I'm super excited and proud of the guys to get that experience and moment tomorrow," App said. "These guys have been preparing for two years to compete for a championship. We're one of two teams to get that opportunity, and we'll try to make the most of it."
In the first game of the doubleheader, Trinity's Darius Lue missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer, which would have sent the game into overtime. Wesleyan completed the year 2-0 against its Connecticut rival.
Jordan James had 13 points for the Cardinals, while Sam Peek and Gabe Ravetz had 12 each. Will Dorian and Ben Callahan-Gold had 14 each for the Bantams.