Williams College basketball teams set to begin NESCAC tournament play

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The second season begins for Williams College and the other NESCAC teams that qualified for the men's and women's basketball tournament on Saturday. The Williams men earned a No. 2 seed, and a quarterfinal home game. The Ephs just have easily could have opened on the road.

"Obviously, it speaks for the balance in the league," App said. "I don't think anybody thought that five teams would tie at 7-3. I think a lot of people probably thought with how balanced the league was, that whoever came out on top might only have seven wins.

"It just happened to be five of us."

That's five as in five teams that finished in a tie for first place in the conference with identical 7-3 records. Since NESCAC does not break ties to determine regular-season champions, Williams earned a share of the regular-season title with Amherst, Middlebury, Wesleyan and Hamilton.

Williams (19-5) ended up with the No. 2 seed, and will host seventh-seeded Trinity (15-9, 4-6 NESCAC) on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The Williams women, meanwhile, are the seventh seed and will play at No. 2 Bowdoin in a quarterfinal Saturday afternoon.

"We're just excited to still be playing. The winner of our game with Hamilton was going to make the tournament," Williams women's coach Pat Manning said. "All week, we were gearing up for the Amherst-Hamilton weekend. Now that we made it through, have a second chance and celebrated our seniors, we just want to keep playing.

"This team has great chemistry, and we don't feel like we're over yet."

The Williams men, who lost at Amherst and won at Hamilton in the final weekend of the regular season, is the second seed, but is the highest-ranked team in the D3hoops.com national Top 25. Williams was ranked ninth, Middlebury fell from fifth to 13th, Hamilton remained at No. 15 and Wesleyan rose from 22 to 17. Amherst is not ranked this week.

Amherst, by virtue of a 3-1 record against the other 7-3 teams, earned the top seed in the men's tournament, and will host No. 8 Bowdoin on Saturday. The win over Middlebury on Saturday gave Amherst coach Dave Hixon his 800th career victory.

The highest remaining seed after Saturday's quarterfinals will host the semifinals and finals the following weekend.

Now back to that tiebreaker. Amherst got the No. 1 and by virtue of going 1-3 against the other teams, Middlebury — despite coming into the final weekend as the nation's No. 5 team — fell to the fifth seed.

That left Williams, Hamilton and Wesleyan. The Ephs, by virtue of beating both Hamilton and Wesleyan, earned the No. 2 seed. Hamilton beat Wesleyan and lost to Williams on Saturday, and the Continentals slid into the No. 3 slot. Wesleyan lost its league game to Williams and lost to Hamilton, and got the four.

"It's always a goal to get a home game during the playoffs," App said. "They're pretty fired up. We talked about it on Senior [Day] that we hoped it wasn't the last game at home this year. We're excited to be back at home this weekend.

"We also know it isn't going to be any easy task, and it should be a fun tournament across the board."

Williams is seeking its first NESCAC tournament title since 2010. The Ephs haven't played Trinity in postseason play since beating the Bantams 79-69 in 2011 at Chandler Gym. Troy Whittington had 31 points in that win, while James Wang had 23.

The Bantams also qualified via tiebreaker. Trinity, Bates and Bowdoin all finished with 4-6 conference marks. Trinity went 2-3 against the five 7-3 squads, Bowdoin went 1-4 and Bates went 0-5. That left the Bobcats on the outside, and Bowdoin got the No. 8 seed, and will play the top-seeded Mammoths.

This season, Williams won at Trinity 77-58.

That game was tied at halftime, but the Ephs outscored the Bantams 42-25 in the second half to win going away. James Heskett had 34 points to lead the Ephs in that game. Trinity had won two of the last three games in the series, and each one of those had been decided by no more than two points.

"Knowing that they're going to make things difficult on that and embracing it, and keeping your poise during certain stretches," App said, when asked what his team has to do to play a defensive-minded Trinity team. "They're playing hard on defense and making it hard on you, and kind of trusting that all we have to do is stick to our stuff.

"Not freaking out that it's a low-possession, low-scoring game."

The Williams women, meanwhile, lost a tiebreaker and got the seventh seed in their tournament.

That came because Williams (12-12, 4-6) and Connecticut College both finished with 4-6 league records. The Camels beat Williams head-to-head, giving coach Brian Wilson's team the sixth seed, and a quarterfinal date at No. 3 Tufts.

Williams will travel to Brunswick, Maine, to play the No. 2 seeded Polar Bears (23-1, 9-1). Bowdoin's only loss came in a game at top-seeded and No. 1 Amherst.

The Ephs are 0-7 in the NESCAC tournament against Bowdoin, and haven't beaten the Polar Bears since a 69-55 victory back on Jan. 17, 2014.

"Bowdoin's really talented," Manning said. "They have a very strong senior class. They come at you with very aggressive defense, probably the best defense in the conference, and a very different style of defense. I think all NESCAC teams play really good 'D,' and that's a trademark of our conference. Bowdoin does it a little different in that they extend the floor more than most teams. They'll come and get you full court. They trap, they press, and that's a little different than the rest of the conference."

This season, the Ephs traveled to Maine and lost 73-47. Bowdoin jumped all over Williams, outscoring the Ephs 17-3 in the first quarter, behind a game-high 14 points from Lauren Petit.

Gabby Martin led Williams with 12 points and Maggie Meehan had 11. Both first-year players came off the bench."

"They're more of a guard-dominated team," said Manning. "They do have a lot of weapons and a lot of depth. There have been times when they have played 11 kids in the first quarter. They run kids in and out.

"It's us making sure we can handle the pressure, the intense defense and pressure."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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