By Matt Noonan (@MattNoonan11)
Middlebury College men’s basketball coach Jeff Brown didn’t need to share any inspirational words at the break.
Instead, the tenured coach, who displayed his ‘calm demeanor’ in the locker room, told his team what they needed to correct in the second half.
And those corrections were fixed rather quickly as the Panthers overcame a four-point deficit (40-36) by commencing the second session on a 16-0 run, which carried the Blue and White to an 84-62 victory over Williams College in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship on Sunday afternoon at Tufts University.
“We just told the guys exactly what we think and we just need to play better,” Brown said of his halftime talk with the Panthers.
“I told them it is really difficult to become champions, but we made it look pretty easy in the second half.”
Brown’s crew indeed made it look easy, especially when Matt St. Amour sank a few long-range three-pointers that helped the Panthers grow a lead the Ephs would not erase.
Not only did St. Amour sink back-to-back treys early in the frame, but added a layup and another triple minutes later to make it 57-43 with 12:39 remaining.
“My teammates kept telling me to be aggressive, play your game and (that) they had faith in me,” St. Amour said of his second half performance.
“They found me at such good sports and I started to get a couple to go.”
Middlebury’s second half run also featured baskets from Nick Tarantino, Adisa Majors, Eric McCord and Jack Daly.
In addition to an impressive second half surge, the Panthers also held the Ephs scoreless for 5:59. Williams would net its first second half basket with 14:01 remaining when Daniel Aronowitz sank one of two freebies.
Aronowitz’s lone free throw did not spark a second half rally – Williams did pull within 12 points (62-50) with 9:32 remaining, but that would be the closest they would get.
Middlebury would push ahead for good with back-to-back layups from Majors and McCord, who combined for 20 points.
“I think the big key was the start of the second half (when) we got multiple stops and that really helped us get some separation,” said Brown.
The Panthers recorded just five steals in the second half, but netted 20 of 36 field goals, including 6 of 17 from beyond the arc. They concluded the contest with 34 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and 14 points off turnovers.
Sunday’s win erased the memory of an early season setback, which saw Williams outscore Middlebury, 50-28, in the second half en route to an 89-65 win.
Middlebury has not lost since falling to Williams on the road – they will enter the NCAA Tournament on an 11-game winning streak.
Said St. Amour of the Panthers’ 11-game winning streak, “Toughness is the biggest (reason) … we know we didn’t play the way we wanted to after (falling to Williams last month) and we didn’t want it to happen again.
“Every day, whether it is a practice or a game, we just want to come in, work hard and that really is what it is … this group is really close.”
St. Amour concluded the contest with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and one block, while Jake Brown registered 20 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Williams’ Kyle Scadlock recorded a game-high 24 points, while also pulling down 11 rebounds. Aronowitz record 14 points, three caroms, one steal and one block.
The Ephs, who have now fallen to Middlebury twice in the NESCAC Championship, will have to wait and see if they earn an at-large bid to this year’s NCAA Division III Tournament.
The NCAA Division III men’s basketball selection show is scheduled for Monday, February 27 at 12:30 p.m. eastern.
Said Williams Coach Kevin App, “I want it for the guys … this group has done enough to compete in the national tournament, so I hope we get the opportunity.”