Middlebury’s Matt Daley scored a game-high 24 points, adding 11 rebounds as the Panthers topped Alvernia 81-71 in the opening game of Franklin and Marshall’s Rotary Tip-Off Tournament in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the season-opener for both teams, Middlebury (1-0) pulled away in the final four minutes, using a 15-5 run to seal the victory of two nationally-ranked teams that both played in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Daley scored 10 points in the first half, including six of Middlebury’s first eight points as the Panthers built an early 8-3 lead. Alvernia (0-1) took the lead at 12:00 after back-to-back threes from Kahlil Bennett. The Panthers answered with a 12-3 run as Daley chipped in two buckets, while Joey Kizel and Hunter Merryman added three-pointers for a 24-17 lead with 7:23 left to play in the half.
The lead grew to 27-19 on a three by Dylan Sinnickson before the Crusaders, ranked 21st in the nation, responded with a 6-0 burst, as Chris Davis accounted for four points. Middlebury held a slight lead before Davis tied the game with a pair of free throws in the final minute. Middlebury’s Jake Nidenberg hit a jumper to close out the half, giving the Panthers a 33-31 lead at the break.
Eighteenth-ranked Middlebury burst out of the gate in the second half with a 9-0 run, kicked off by a three from Matt St. Amour and four points from Daley. Leading by 42-31, the lead grew to a dozen at the 15 minute mark before the Crusaders pulled within two points on a 12-2 counter-punch in less than three minutes of action. Bennett added eight points, bookending threes during Alvernia’s run.
Middlebury built another double-digit lead over the next five minutes, outscoring the Crusaders 18-9 as Daley added eight more points and Kizel capped the scoring with a three for a 66-55 lead with seven minutes left to play. Alvernia answered again, this time with a 9-0 scoring run as four different Crusaders scored, cutting the Panther lead to 66-64 with 4:23 left on the clock.
The lead grew to 73-66, but Lamont Clark’s basket at 2:04 cut the lead to five. After Clark missed a free throw for a traditional three-point play, St. Amour connected on a long-distance three for a 76-68 lead with 1:33 left to play. The Panthers hit 5-6 free throws down the stretch, sandwiched around a three from Bennett for the 81-71 final.
The Panthers had 10 players accumulate 10 or more minutes of floor time, as Kizel paced the Panthers with 38 minutes of play, adding 14 points and a game-high five assists. Daley had a huge game for Middlebury, hitting 11-15 shots from the floor for 24 points, while grabbing 11 rebounds (six offensive) in 25 minutes of action. Jack Roberts (game-high 13 rebounds) and St. Amour netted 10 points apiece, while Merryman also added 10 points off the bench.
Alvernia had their starting five all play 30 or more minutes, as Bennett led the Crusaders with 22 points on 7-18 shooting and 6-12 from long distance in 32 minutes of action. Clark and Harrison Deyo each finished with 11 points, while Davis added eight points with a team-best nine rebounds.