Trailing by as many as 22 early in the second half, the Middlebury men's basketball team had a furious comeback attempt fall just short in a 90-85 setback to Trinity in a physical game inside Pepin Gymnasium. The Panthers (16-7, 3-6) return to the court when they host Amherst on Sunday in the regular-season finale at 2:00 p.m. Middlebury needs a victory over the Jeffs coupled with a Wesleyan loss on Saturday at Williams to secure a NESCAC postseason bid. Trinity (19-5, 9-1) concludes its regular season and will host a NESCAC quarterfinal game on February 21.
In the opening half, the Panthers raced out to their largest lead of the game at 8-4 on a free throw by Hunter Merryman at 15:56. Trinity recorded the next five points on a layup from Ed Ogundeko and a three-point field goal from Rick Naylor, but Middlebury's Jack Daly canned a long three from the right wing. The lead was the last of the contest for the Panthers, as the Bantams rattled off an 8-0 spurt over the next 3:38 of action on five points from Andrew Hurd and a trio of free throws from George Papadeas.
Middlebury whittled away the Bantam advantage to three points (21-18) on a tip-in by Matt Daley with 7:30 left. The visitors outscored the Panthers 18-6 over the remainder of the half, taking a 39-24 bulge into the intermission.
Out of the break, Trinity kept the momentum on its side, scoring the first seven points of the half and grabbed its largest lead of the game at 46-24 at 17:52 on a three from Jaquann Starks. The Bantams maintained nearly a 20-point advantage over the next 11 minutes, as Ogundeko nailed a jumper that gave Trinity an 18-point edge (68-50) with 6:59 left.
Middlebury tallied the next six points in a span of 52 seconds on lay-ups by Merryman and Connor Huff, sandwiched around a pair of charity tosses from Jake Brown to cut it to 12 at 68-56 with 6:07 remaining. Trinity scored six of the next nine points and held a 74-59 advantage at the 4:57 mark.
The Panthers began fouling to extend the game with 4:30 left on the clock. The teams traded points as the Bantams knocked down 12-16 free throws and had a 10-point advantage 86-76 with 1:14 on the clock. Middlebury pulled to within four (87-83) via a 7-1 spurt over the next 48 seconds, capped off via a tip-in put-back from Dylan Sinnickson with 26 ticks left. That is as close as the Panthers would get in their comeback bid as Trinity hung on for the five-point win.
Matt St. Amour led four Panthers in double-figures with 20 points, all in the second half, while Merryman added 16. Daley finished with 13 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for his third double-double in the last six games, while Brown chipped in with 11 points and game-bests of seven assists and four steals.
Starks paced five Bantams in double digits with 16 points and yanked down a team-best nine boards, while Papadeas added 15 points. Andrew Hurd and Ogundeko each had 13 points and Rick Naylor ended with 11.
The contest featured 29 fouls for each team, and 77 total free throws. Middlebury went 80 percent (32-40) from the charity stripe, while Trinity knocked down 67.6 percent (25-37) of its attempts.