Middlebury saw a comfortable 22-point lead over Hamilton dwindle into a late, one-possession advantage as the host hung on for an 81-77 NESCAC quarterfinal win at Pepin Gym. Middlebury (17-8), the third seed in the conference tourney, will take on second-seeded Williams next Saturday at Amherst. The host school will face Trinity in the other semifinal match-up. Hamilton ends its season with a 14-11 mark.
To start the first half, both teams shot particularly well as the teams exchanged leads seven times in the first five-plus minutes. Middlebury opened the game hitting 5-7 from the field including four three-pointers, while Hamilton connected on 6-8 from the field. Hunter Merryman knocked down a trey for Middlebury at 14:18, his three ignited a 10-0 run, giving the hosts a 23-14 lead with just under 12 minutes left.
Hamilton answered with a quick 5-0 burst on jumpers from Peter Kazickas and Bradley Gifford. The two teams exchanged baskets three times before Middlebury cobbled together an 8-0 run built with five free throws and a three-pointer from Jake Brown for a 37-24 lead at 5:34. The Panthers maintained their double-digit lead, closing out the half with a 46-33 advantage.
In the opening stanza, Middlebury shot a staggering 6-11 from long distance as Merryman paced the Panthers with 10 points, including 2-2 from downtown. For the half, Middlebury connected on 16-27 shots and hit 8-9 from the line. Conversely, Matt Hart, the NESCAC's regular-season leading scorer (20.6 ppg), scored four points on 2-6 shooting, as the visitors shot 14-32 from the field.
The second half saw the Panthers open with a 15-6 run, building a commanding 61-39 lead. Consecutive three-pointers from Joey Kizel, Merryman and Dylan Sinnickson broke open the game, as Sinnickson slammed home a thunderous alley-oop dunk set-up by Kizel to cap the run, forcing a Hamilton time-out.
Midd Minute: 2019-20
Midd Minute: 2018-19
For the next eight minutes, the Continentals could not crack the double-digit threshold until Donnelly dialed up another trey at 3:37, cutting the Panther lead to 71-62. A lay-up by Middlebury's James Jensen gave the Panthers their double-digit lead back, but a Newton lay-up at 2:00 brought the lead back to nine.
Newton and Merryman traded two free throws before Hart heated up for Hamilton. At 1:15, Hart nailed a three off a Santos assist and followed with a lay-up, narrowing the deficit to 75-71 with 44 seconds left.
After a Hamilton time-out, Middlebury broke the full-court press as Jack Roberts got an easy basket and was fouled with :32 left on the clock. Roberts hit the free throw for a 78-71 lead. Lin answered for the visitors with a quick lay-up. After the teams exchanged time-outs, Hamilton forced a turnover and Middlebury fouled Hart, who sank both free throws, making it a one-possession game with 20 seconds to play. Trailing 78-75, Hamilton fouled Kizel on the inbound pass, and Kizel made 1-2 from the line for a 79-75 lead with 16 ticks remaining.
With 10 seconds left, Hart launched a three that was off-line as the Panthers got the rebound. Hamilton sent Kizel back to the line where he netted both free throws for an 81-75 lead with six seconds left. In the final second, Lin collected a Hamilton miss for a lay-up capping the score at 81-77.
Merryman led Middlebury with 17 points on 5-6 shooting including 3-4 from behind the arc. Kizel finished with 14 points, six rebounds and a team-best six assists, while Sinnickson added a dozen points and five caroms.
Santos led all scorers with 18 points on 9-14 shooting, as Newton added 11 with six rebounds before fouling out. Donnelly chipped in 10, while Hart finished with 11 points connecting on just 4-11 from the field.