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Panther men’s basketball splits, earns NESCAC No. 1 seed

MIDDLEBURY — After the weekend drama of two NESCAC home games that came down to the final seconds, the Middlebury College men’s basketball team then waited for four days to learn whether they would earn the top seed for the league tournament.
A couple hundred miles away on Wednesday night — in a game postponed from Tuesday — host Hamilton edged Amherst, 81-77, and that result left all three teams at 7-3 in the league, but put the Panthers at No. 1.
The top tiebreakers (such as head-to-head competition and records against the league’s other top teams) created no separation among the top three. But down the list Middlebury beat No. 7 Colby, while Colby beat Amherst and Hamilton, and Middlebury got the nod.
The Panthers will host a Saturday quarterfinal at 3 p.m. against No. 8 Tufts, a team that defeated the Panthers on the road by two points this season. If the Panthers prevail this time they will host the league’s final four on Feb. 23 and 24, with the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament going to the winner.
Back in Pepin Gymnasium this past Friday night the Panthers got an NBA-range three-pointer from guard Max Bosco with 2.4 seconds on the clock to defeat Hamilton, 80-79.
On Saturday Amherst rallied from 12 down to knock off the Panthers, 97-93. Middlebury had three chances to take the lead in the final 10 seconds, but saw one shot blocked and two more roll off the rim.
The weekend and Wednesday results left Amherst at 20-4 overall, Hamilton at 20-3, and Middlebury at 18-6.
AMHERST GAME SATURDAY
Of course, the Panthers could have rendered the tiebreakers and the snowstorm moot if they had hung on to defeat Amherst.
But Amherst hurt the Panthers with 17 offensive rebounds that led to 26 second-chance points. And despite the 93 points the Mammoths allowed, terrific defense on Panther guard Jack Farrell down the stretch proved pivotal.
PANTHER GUARD GRIFFIN Kornaker shows some nifty footwork to get around Amherst players during the first half of Saturday’s game in Middlebury. Kornaker hit two free throws in the last minute of the game to give the Panthers the lead, but the Mammoths came back and won.
Independent photo/Steve James
Farrell drove for three straight layups in less than a minute to push the score to 83-71 at 7:49. After Mammoth forward Eric Sellew hit a three, Farrell hit a jumper at 6:17, and the Panthers led by 11.
But Amherst guard Devonn Allen worked hard to deny Farrell the ball the rest of the way, and Farrell added just two free throws down the stretch.
Panther Coach Jeff Brown credited both teams for their play. 
“It was a great game, and a tremendous effort by our guys,” Brown said. “This Amherst group is a really hard-nosed defensive team, and they hurt us on the boards, and they put a lot of pressure on us. And perhaps they wore us down a little bit towards the end, because we didn’t make as many good plays in the last stretch.”
Saturday’s first-half ended at 41-41 when Allen scored five points in the final minute, including a buzzer-beating three. In the second half Middlebury led by seven points when Perry DeLorenzo and Joey Leighton hit back-to-back buckets to push the lead to 75-65 at 10:32.
MIDDLEBURY GUARD MAX Bosco powers to the basket in the first half of Saturday’s home loss to Amherst. Bosco had 12 points in the game. 
Independent photo/Steve James
Then Farrell’s one-man assault pushed it to 12. But the Mammoths sank five three-pointers down the stretch, including three by Fru Che and one by Grant Robinson at 0:56 that gave them the lead, 92-91, at 0:56.
Griffin Kornaker hit two free throws at 0:36 to put the Panthers back on top, but Robinson swished a pull-up 12-footer at 0:24 to make it 94-93.
After a timeout, the Panthers gave the ball to guard Hilal Dahleh with room at the foul line. He attacked the basket, but his shot was rejected. Farrell grabbed the loose ball, but his jumper from the lane front-rimmed the hoop. Eric McCord tried a tip-in, but the ball wouldn’t go. Che grabbed the rebound and was fouled at 0:05.
Che hit the first to make it 95-93, and missed the second. Allen hauled it in a long rebound and made two free throws to seal the win.
MIDDLEBURY’S ERIC MCCORD battles his opposite number, Joe Schneider, under the Amherst basket in the first half of Saturday’s home loss. McCord, a senior, had 12 points in the game.
Independent photo/Steve James
Farrell led the Panthers with 22 points. Folger contributed 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Bosco and McCord each scored 12, while DeLorenzo added 10 off the bench and hit all four of his shots. Alex Sobel blocked six shots.
Robinson (20) Sellew (19 points, seven boards) Che (15 points, seven rebounds), C.J. Bachmann (14 points), and Allen (11 points, three steals) sparked Amherst.
BOSCO BOFFO
On Friday Bosco’s long-range bomb rescued the Panthers after Hamilton had erased a 51-34 Middlebury lead with 16:57 to go.
Middlebury still led, 68-56, when Kornaker sank a three at 9:27. But Hamilton went on a 23-6 run to take 79-74 lead on a Kena Gilmour three at 1:20. 
McCord next hit one of two free throws, and a Farrell steal and layup made it 79-77 at 0:39. After a Hamilton miss, Folger rebounded and fed Farrell.
Farrell pushed the ball up the left side and hit Bosco six feet behind the arc on the right side for the game-winning three-pointer. Bosco was fouled on the shot and purposely missed the free throw, and Hamilton’s last-second 55-foot heave bounced off the backboard.
JACK FARRELL, WHO led all point scorers in the game with 22, dribbles into Amherst territory in the last minute of Saturday’s game, with the Panthers trailing by one point. His shot missed and the visitors ran out winners.
Independent photo/Steve James
Farrell finished with 18 points and four assists, and Folger contributed 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Dahleh chipped in 14 points, and Bosco added 13. McCord pulled down nine boards. 
Gilmour paced Hamilton with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Peter Hoffmann had 16 points and eight boards.
Saturday ended the Panthers’ six-game winning streak. Brown believes they are capable of winning a NESCAC title, or at least earning an NCAA bid.
“It’s certainly my hope we can continue to grow and get ready for the quarterfinals next week and can put ourselves in a position to win the league, number one, and maybe get an NCAA bid, also,” he said. “We’re positioned pretty well where we are right now with some of the wins that we’ve gotten.”

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