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Panther men’s hoop puts the clamps on Bantams

MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury College basketball team coming off its biggest win of the season a week before — an 80-66 upset of host Williams, NESCAC’s first-place team — kept the pedal to the metal on this past Sunday with a 75-38 thrashing of visiting NESCAC rival Trinity.
The Panthers held the Bantams (13-7, 2-4 NESCAC) to five points in a midgame span of 15:37 while pushing a three-point lead to a 36-point bulge.
Middlebury (15-5, 4-2 NESCAC, good for third place) led, 15-12, at 10:00 of the first half, when Trinity’s Connor Merinder completed a three-point play. Their next points came on another three-point play, this one from Donald Jorden at 0:20 of the half.
Panther big man Eric McCord answered that with his own hoop and free throw a second before halftime, and Middlebury led at the break, 34-15.
While the Bantams were missing 11 shots and turning the ball over three times after Merinder scored, Max Bosco put up four points; Matt Folger tipped in a miss, sank a three pointer and drove and dished to Thomas Zodda for a layup; McCord hit inside; and Griffin Kornaker drove for a three-point play before Jorden ended Trinity’s 9:40 scoreless drought. 
The Panthers opened the second half with a 19-2 run to make it 53-17 with 14:03 to go.
Bosco hit three free throws and two drives to the hoop during the run, Hilal Dahleh scored in transition and capped a sequence of sharp ball movement by drilling a corner three on a feed from Kornaker (a hoop that drew cheers from a crowd of about 1,000), Folger sank two from the line, and Joey Leighton capped the surge with a three pointer set up by Dahleh.
With the Panthers up by 36 points, the only real suspense was whether the Bantams could crack 40 points in 40 minutes. They could not. The Panthers continued to work hard in their man-to-man defense, and the Bantams also missed six or eight shots they might normally sink. Trinity made 13 baskets and shot 22.4 percent.
After holding Williams to 60 points at home, the Panthers have in two games moved from 10th in the league in points-against per game to fifth.
Coach Jeff Brown is happy to see it.
“Certainly we’ve improved as the year’s gone on defensively. And tonight was just an outstanding job of the guys just following the game plan and defending a very athletic team in Trinity,” Brown said.
Two Panthers routinely harassed ballhandlers as Trinity tried to deploy a high-screen attack, and Middlebury also used its defensive versatility to switch on the picks.
“We were looking to hard-hedge a ball-screen, and temporarily double-team the ballhandler, and our guys did a good job of that. And we combined that with a little bit of switching,” Brown said.
Trinity slowed the pace down to prevent the Panthers from running, but Middlebury also showed well in half-court sets. Brown attributed improvement at both ends to more practice time.
“We played a lot of games early. We didn’t have a lot of practice time. And now that we’re done with the non-league games we can devote a little more time to teaching in practice and coaching,” Brown said, adding, “Our guys have always done a great job of sharing the basketball and playing unselfishly. I just think the more time that we’re together, the more comfortable they are with their teammates and where they are on the floor, and we can put everybody in the best position.”
Bosco led the way with 15 points and five assists, while Matt Folger contributed 11 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals. McCord and Kornaker each chipped nine points, Jack Farrell and Leighton scored eight points apiece, and Alex Sobel nabbed eight rebounds. Jorden led Trinity with 11 points, while Merinder had eight points and five rebounds. 
The Panthers will head to Maine to face Bowdoin (11-7, 2-4) on Friday and dangerous Colby (15-5, 3-3) on Saturday.
Brown is hoping the Panthers can continue to surge.
“We’re looking forward to going back on the road next weekend and seeing if we can get some more NESCAC wins,” he said.

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