Panther men’s basketball defeats NESCAC rivals

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s basketball team picked up two hard-fought NESCAC home wins this weekend to move to 14-8 — and more importantly 6-2 in the league, a record that gives them a chance to earn first place next weekend.
The Panthers’ victories — 67-65 vs. Colby on Saturday and 78-69 vs. Bowdoin on Sunday — mean that if they win at Amherst and Trinity this coming Friday and Saturday, respectively, they will earn the top seed for the upcoming NESCAC tournament.
The Panthers knew that scenario coming into this weekend, and considered the games against two teams with a combined 3-9 league mark when they left Maine as must-win propositions. 
 “We knew these were big to take care of on our home court,” said junior leading scorer Matt St. Amour, who led the Panthers in points (24 and rebounds (nine) vs. Bowdoin. “It puts us in a good spot going into next week.”
Coach Jeff Brown said the Panthers will be challenged on Friday and Saturday.
“Amherst and Trinity are very talented, very athletic,” Brown said. “Trinity is a very athletic and hard-working team, and they really get after you on the defensive end, so we’re really going to have to be disciplined and make good decisions against them. And Amherst always puts a lot of shooters on the floor, and we’ve got to be able to guard the three and be able to rebound with some of their length and size.”
St. Amour said the Panthers’ grit, which he believes they have developed this winter and certainly served them well this past weekend, might just do so again next weekend.
“It will be good competition, we know, so we’ll just have to go in there and be tough, which I think is what’s really separated this year from last year,” he said.
St. Amour and Brown also both pointed to the many members of the team who made big plays vs. Colby and Bowdoin. Down the stretch on Saturday, sophomore forward Adisa Majors, freshman forward Zach Baines, junior guard Jake Brown and sophomore guard Jack Daly figured in the tying and go-ahead hoops in the final minute.
After Bowdoin came from 11 points down to tie the score at 67-67 with 3:27 to go on Sunday, St. Amour, Daly, Baines, Brown and sophomore forward Nick Tarantino came up with crucial contributions. 
“We have a lot of pieces,” Brown said. “I’m just really pleased with the chemistry of this group, and the competitiveness.”
On Saturday, the host Panthers saw a 35-22 halftime lead vanish and then rallied from a late seven-point deficit for the victory over Colby (13-9, 1-7 NESCAC).
The Mules took a 65-63 lead on a Chris Hudnut free throw with 50 seconds left. The Panthers tied the game with at 0:31 when Majors hit eight-foot jumper in the lane. The Mules missed with 20 seconds left, and Baines rebounded and made the outlet pass to Brown, who found Daly streaking down the right side for the go-ahead layup at 0:15. Colby then missed a late three.
The Panthers took their halftime lead by shooting better than 48 percent, forcing 17 Colby first-half turnovers, and closing the period with a 16-1 run in which Brown scored six points.
 The Mules opened the second half with a 32-10 surge to take the 54-47 lead. A jumper by senior forward Connor Huff jumper capped an 11-3 run that put the Panthers back on top, 58-57, and set up the back-and-forth conclusion.
Brown led the Panthers with 18 points to go along with six assists. Majors added 14 points with five rebounds, while Daly chipped in 11 points as well as eight assists and eight rebounds.
Hudnut tied Brown for game-high honors with 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as Colby earned a 45-28 edge on the board.
On Sunday, both teams struggled offensively in the early going. Five quick points by leading NESCAC scorer Lucas Hausman, a senior guard, made it 18-11, Bowdoin. After Coach Brown called a timeout at 7:36, the Panthers went on a 10-0 run over the next 3:36, capped by Tarantino finishing in transition from Brown.
They stretched the lead to 33-27 at the break as St. Amour scored 10 of Middlebury’s final 12 points and Brown drove to beat the buzzer.
Bowdoin (9-10, 2-6) tied the game at 41-41 in the first four minutes of the second half as forward Matt Palecki scored all seven of his points in that stretch, and Hausman scored seven of his game-high 29.
The Panthers answered with an 18-5 run to lead by 59-46 at 10:46. St. Amour scored seven in the run, and Baines and Hilal Dahleh capped it with hoops.
The Panthers still led by 61-50 at 8:43, when Tarantino dunked on the break from Daly. But then Bowdoin freshman forward Jack Simonds scored 14 points of his 23 points in the next four minutes to help cut the lead to 65-64. After two Majors free throws, a Hausman three-point play tied the game at 67-67 at 3:27.
 The Panthers responded. Daly grabbed an offensive board and set up a St. Amour three at 2:42. On the next Panther possession, Daly and Majors both nabbed offensive rebounds before Brown set up a Baines jumper at 1:19. After a Tarantino rebound, Baines dunked in transition on a feed from Brown to make it 74-67 at 0:49. Free throws created the final score.
Contributing on the stat sheet were Baines (nine points, five boards, two blocks), Brown (nine points, seven assists), Daly (eight points, four assists, three steals), Majors (eight points, five boards) and Tarantino (four points and six rebounds in nine minutes).
“Luckily, we were able to make plays at the end of both games,” Brown said. “It was really some exciting basketball.”  

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