The Middlebury men’s basketball team began its season last weekend by winning the 35th Eastern Connecticut Tip-Off Tournament in Geissler Gymnasium. The 24th-ranked Panthers opened with a convincing 82-55 victory over Salem State on Friday evening. Middlebury capped off a perfect opening weekend, winning by an 83-74 count on Saturday over the host school. Middlebury sophomore Zach Baines (Stamford, Conn.) was selected as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, finishing the two contests with 37 points and 18 rebounds. Senior Jake Brown (Hawley, Pa.) with 17 points and 12 assists along with classmate Matt St. Amour (Swanton, Vt.) with his 25 points also earned spots on the all-tournament team.
On Friday, the Vikings scored the game’s first points on a three-point field goal from Shaquan Murray with 19:07 left. The Panthers put together a 20-5 run over the next 6:33 of action, capped off on a layup from junior Nick Tarantino (Dedham, Mass.), for a 20-8 lead with 12:34 remaining in the half. Salem State slowly chipped away, cutting the Panther edge to four (24-20) on a jumper by Marcus Faison at the 8:14 mark.
Middlebury pushed the lead back out to double digits via a 12-0 run over a 3:35 for a 36-20 lead. Junior Adisa Majors (New York, N.Y.) had four points during the spurt, while four other Panthers recorded a bucket. The advantage grew to as many as 21 (46-25) just seconds before halftime on a layup from sophomore Eric McCord (Westford, Mass.). The Panthers shot 59.5 percent (22-37) in the opening half with 34 points in the paint, while limiting the Vikings to just 27.8 percent (10-26) from the floor.
Out of the intermission, Baines tallied the first points of the second half with a layup to put his team up by 23. The lead ballooned to 28 on a three-point field goal from senior Bryan Jones (Shelton, Conn.), giving the Panthers a 60-32 advantage with 11:46 remaining. The Vikings never were able to cut the deficit to under 21 over the remainder of the contest, as Middlebury cruised to the season-opening win.
Baines led a balanced attack which saw 11 Panthers score. He poured in a career-high 22 points in the victory, going 10-13 from the floor to go along with six rebounds and three blocked shots. Majors was also in double figures with 12 points, while McCord netted 10 in 17 minutes on 4-7 shooting with five boards. Junior Jack Daly (Eastchester, N.Y.) had a huge all-around game for Middlebury, finishing with nine points, game-best totals of 11 rebounds and five steals to go along with six assists.
Faison finished with 17 points to lead the Vikings along with five rebounds. Stephen Bouyer added nine points off the bench, while Tyreik McCauley yanked down a team-best nine rebounds.
The Panthers finished the contest shooting nearly 52 percent from the field (36-70), while limiting Salem State to just 29.6 percent (21-71). Middlebury won the rebounding battle 47-39, and scored 46 points in the paint to just 14 for the Vikings.
In Saturday’s championship, the Warriors got off to a fast start, scoring the initial five points of the contest with Carlos Gonzalez getting the opening bucket from behind the three-point arc. After a basket by Hugh Lindo put the hosts in front 5-0, the Panthers went on a 10-0 run. St. Amour connected twice from three-point range and Majors added a pair of field goals as Middlebury jumped in front 10-5 in an even four minutes of action.
Eastern Connecticut State countered by scoring the next eight points to reclaim the lead (13-10), but the Panthers responded. A lay-up on a fast break by Jones closed the gap to a point and a jumper by McCord put the Panthers back in front (14-13). A lay-up by St. Amour and a trey by Jones pushed the difference to six at 19-13 with 10:36 left in the half.
The game tightened up in the final 7:17 of the first half as the teams were tied on five occasions, but a three-point field goal in the final minute by ECSU’s Brenden Young gave the hosts a 38-37 lead at the half.
The Panthers started the second stanza with a 7-2 run to jump back into the lead at 44-40 after four minutes of play. St. Amour and Baines each connected from the floor, while Brown hit twice from the foul line and Daly added another from the charity stripe.
The Warriors battled back to tie the game at 52-52 with 10:17 left in regulation, but Middlebury used two free throws by Brown to forge back into the lead. That was the first of several ties before the Panthers pulled away in the final five minutes.
The hosts led 63-62 with 6:41 left, but the Panthers took over from there. Rookie Matt Folger (Weston, Conn.) put Middlebury in front for good with a lay-up and Majors followed with another basket to quickly make it a three-point difference.
The Panthers maintained that lead and sealed the victory when St. Amour and Baines each hit from behind the three-point arc. The trey by Baines gave Middlebury its first double-digit advantage (78-67) of the game with 1:32 left on the clock. The hosts made a couple of buckets in the final seconds, bringing the final margin back to single digits.
St. Amour led all players in the win with 22 points, including a 4-8 effort from three-point range, while Baines recorded a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards. Majors added 14 points for the Panthers and Brown netted 12 with five assists.
For the Warriors, Lindo had a big game, recording a team high in both points (19) and rebounds (15), while Brown added 12 points.
• Men’s basketball record: 2-0
• Up Next: 11/22 vs. SUNY New Paltz – 5:30 p.m., 11/27 vs. Endicott – 2:00 p.m.