Time is now for Williams
There’s a lot on the line this weekend, and Williams College men’s basketball coach Mike Maker understands that.
The Ephs have two games that will go a long way to determining if they’ll be able to host the semifinals and final of the NESCAC postseason basketball tournament. And included in that mix is a rematch with archrival Amherst.
"We teach our players that every game we play at Williams is important, including Amherst," Maker said. "We have great respect for them. But we play Trinity on Friday."
The Ephs enter this weekend as the second-ranked team in the latest D3Hoops.com national Top 25. Maker and Williams will start with a game tonight at 6 against Trinity. Then third-ranked Amherst visits Chandler Gymnasium on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Both games are the first games of doubleheaders. The Williams women and Trinity will follow tonight’s first game, and the Williams and Amherst women will play on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Williams and Amherst enter the weekend tied atop the NESCAC standings with identical 7-0 records. Middlebury, where Amherst plays tonight, is next at 6-1 and Trinity is fourth at 4-3. If Williams wins both games, the Ephs will be in line to host the NESCAC tournament semifinals, should they get out of the first round.
That’s not something Maker said he and his staff will discuss with his players.
"We leave that for you to talk about," Maker said, during an appearance on today’s "Eagle Sports Weekly" on Pittsfield Community Television. "We try to control our effort and our execution, and let the results fall where they may. Going into this weekend, there are a lot of plausible scenarios we can talk about. But I think that’s a waste of energy for me as a coach and for the players to worry about that.
"If we protect our home court, we’ll be hosting throughout the NESCAC tournament, and maybe beyond," he continued. "We’re aware of that."
Williams, Amherst and Middlebury have clinched first-round home games. Williams only needs to beat Amherst to clinch home court.
Tonight’s game features two of the three best defensive teams in the conference. Williams has allowed only 60.5 points per game, while Trinity gives up 60.6. The difference in the two teams is offense - the Ephs average 83.3 points, second in the conference. Trinity averages only 66.4, ninth out of 10 league teams.
Senior Luke MacDougall leads the Bantams in scoring, averaging 13 points per game.
Then, less than 24 hours after Trinity pulls out of Williamstown, coach Dave Hixon and the Lord Jeffs come to town. Amherst enters the weekend with a 21-0 record, and have a 92-89 overtime win against the Ephs. Peter Kaasila had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Jeffs in the win.
Williams played without center Troy Whittington, who was out with a knee injury. Since returning, the senior center from New York City has had three double-doubles.
"I don’t think there’s ever such a thing as a good loss. I think you get your team’s attention after a loss, because it hurts," Maker said. "We performed well at Amherst. We played very, very well and we came up short. We learned a lot about ourselves in that game."
This game could be a battle of the backcourts - Williams’ James Wang and Nate Robertson against Amherst’s Conor Meehan and Aaron Toomey. Wang scored 27 points and Robertson had 19 against Amherst.
But the key in that first game was that Amherst outrebounded Williams 45-37, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. Whittington could have made a big difference in that game. He is fourth in the league with a 9.7 rebound average.
The third-year Williams coach said that wins last weekend at Bowdoin and Colby were important for his team, and the Ephs passed the test.
"We had two big games on the road [last] weekend, and in order to set up this weekend’s big stakes, we needed to win and play well," Maker said, "and we did. We performed well on the road. We don’t think this week will be any different."
"We prepare all year long and all week long to try to be at our optimum performance, both offensively and defensively," said Maker.
"I really believe that every game we play is important and big."
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