Prowitt-Smith navigates around McCarthy

The Williams College men's basketball team is preparing to play Middlebury in the NESCAC semifinals. 

For the fourth time in five years and the seventh time in 11 years, the Williams College men’s basketball team has reached the semifinal round of the NESCAC Tournament.

At the end of the NESCAC rainbow is the pot of gold known as the NCAA Division III tournament. Whichever team advances out of this weekend as champion earns an automatic bid to the tournament. The other teams fall into Pool C, or at large, and will have to wait and see if the Division III committee will call their names.

The semifinals and championship game will be played at Silloway Gymnasium at top-seeded Wesleyan. The Cardinals will open Saturday’s doubleheader against seventh-seeded Trinity. That game will start at 2 p.m.

The fourth-seeded Ephs will play against No. 3 Middlebury in the 4:30 p.m. second game.

The championship game will be played Sunday at noon.

Tickets for Saturday’s doubleheader and Sunday’s championship game are $6 for adults and $3 for students/senior citizens. Tickets will only be sold on the day of the game, and they go on sale Saturday at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The doors to Silloway will open 15 minutes later.

The NCAA will put its bracket together on Sunday night, and the Division III Selection Show on ncaa.com at 12:30 p.m., Monday, will unveil the 64-team field. There are 44 automatic bids and 20 at-large bids available.

“The sky is the limit with this group,” Williams guard Cole Prowitt-Smith said. “At the beginning of the year, we had our goals set on championships. This is a championship-caliber team. We believe that through and through. Knowing that, we just want to play as much basketball as we can.”

All four of the NESCAC semifinalists are among the top nine teams in the latest NCAA Division III rankings for Region I.

Wesleyan is ranked No.1, followed by Saint Joseph’s (Conn.), Williams, Middlebury and Tufts. Middlebury and Tufts flipped spots from the previous week.

The bottom four are Trinity in sixth, followed by Amherst, Albertus Magnus and Westfield State. Westfield replaced Lasell from the previous week’s top nine.

In the latest D3hoops.com national Top 25, Williams is ranked 21st. The No. 1 team continues to be Randolph-Macon. Wesleyan is ranked 11th, Saint Joe’s 12th, and WPI is 14th. The Engineers are the No. 1 team in the Region II rankings, with No. 24 UMass-Dartmouth the No. 2 team in Region II.

Williams vs. MiddleburyThe last time these rivals met in a NESCAC Tournament game was the 2017 season. In the title game at Tufts, No. 2 seed Middlebury rolled past No 6 Williams 84-62. Williams got some revenge, beating Middlebury 79-75 in a D-III Elite Eight game in Vermont. That win sent coach Kevin App’s Ephs to the Final Four.

Saturday’s game will match up two of the three NESCAC teams with the most conference tournament championships. Amherst has eight, Williams five and Middlebury four. Williams’ last NESCAC crown came in 2018.

“One of my big goals for this younger group, they didn’t get to experience the NESCAC semifinal weekend. With our tournament broken up over two weeks, that semifinal weekend feels different than the quarterfinal, with two games and all four teams at the same site,” App said. “I wanted them to get that experience. We’re going to enjoy it. This is a year where we can go in with a clear mind and compete for a championship.”

Williams enters this weekend coming off a 70-66 win over Amherst in the rubber game between the two teams. It was Williams’ third game with a full roster after being shut down for some two weeks because of COVID-19 issues. Five regulars were unavailable in a home loss to Wesleyan on Feb. 7. Five days later, the full team was available, but not quite up to snuff in a loss at Tufts. But the Ephs beat Bates on the road the next day and then knocked off the Mammoths in the quarterfinal.

“I think physically we’re there,” App said after the Amherst game. “I still think we have to take a step mentally and emotionally, confidence-wise. When you don’t play a game for [13 days] and don’t win a game for [almost] a month, you almost forget. That’s what we showed a lot of film on this week, is don’t forget what success looks like. Don’t forget what us playing well feels like. I thought last week at Tufts and Bates, we only let made shots dictate whether we felt we were playing well or not. We actually did some great things.

“We tried to remind them of how good they are when we play loose and free and confident.”

When Williams and Middlebury met back on Jan. 22, the Ephs were riding a three-game winning streak that included a victory over Amherst on David Hixon Court in LeFrak Gymnasium.

Alex Sobel scored Middlebury’s first four points, and when Noah Osher hit two free throws, coach Jeff Brown’s Panthers led 6-5.

Williams responded with a jumper by Nate Karren. Then Prowitt-Smith turned over Jake Bobbett and fed Declan Porter for a 3-point shot that put the Ephs up 8-6. They never trailed again, winning 78-53. Porter had 17 points and Karren 16 for Williams.

Wesleyan vs. TrinityThe last time the Cardinals won the championship was in 2015. That year, Wesleyan was the No. 6 seed and beat No. 5 Amherst 74-70 in overtime. That was a real Cinderella championship year because the 3 and 4 seeds lost in the quarterfinals, while top-seeded Trinity and No. 2 Bowdoin lost in the semifinals.

Coach Joe Reilly’s Cardinals are 22-3 and have won six straight games. Their last loss was an 83-81 home defeat to Amherst in overtime back on Jan. 28.

The Cardinals are led by forward Sam Peek, who averages 18.9 points per game. He did not, however, play in Wesleyan’s 82-74 win over Trinity back on Jan. 14. In that game, Wesleyan’s Preston Maccoux had a team-high 21 points. Gabe Ravetz and Shackylle Dezonie each had double-doubles. Wesleyan will need to shut down Will Dorian, who had 22 points for Trinity in that game.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.