Middlebury broke a 66-66 tie with 6:05 remaining and never relinquished that advantage, earning an 88-84 NESCAC quarterfinal win Saturday inside a boisterous Pepin Gymnasium. Second-seeded Middlebury (22-3) advances to the conference semifinals and will face fifth-seeded Trinity next Saturday at Tufts. The top-seeded Jumbos play sixth-seeded Williams in the other semifinal matchup.
The 10th-ranked Panthers got off to a blistering start, racing out to a 20-5 advantage after seven minutes. Matt St. Amour was the catalyst for the hosts, scoring 13 of the team's first 18 points. Adisa Majors capped off the fast start with a bucket in the paint, putting Middlebury's lead at 15 points. The Panthers hit seven of their first 11 shots and their defense was stellar during that time as well, forcing five turnovers and limiting Bates (15-10) to two field goals.
The Bobcats closed the gap to 10 points (24-14) halfway through the frame, taking advantage from behind the three-point arc with three different players connecting. Middlebury's biggest lead of the opening half (33-16) came with 5:08 on the clock when St. Amour sank a three on an assist from Eric McCord. In the closing minutes of the first half, Bates made a push, getting the score to single digits after a modest 6-0 run. Malcolm Delpeche converted a conventional three-point play, followed by a long trey from Quin Leary making it a 40-31 score. Bryan Jones sank a three for the Panthers in the final 60 seconds, while Delpeche dunked an offensive rebound for the Bobcats, making it a 43-33 Middlebury lead at half.
McCord opened the second half by scoring seven of Middlebury's first nine points as the hosts pushed their advantage to 52-38. Bates began to chip away, making three more shots from behind the arc. A trey by Tom Coyne with 13:02 on the clock brought the difference back to single digits (56-47).
After two free throws by Middlebury's Jack Daly, the Bobcats went on a 12-0 run, capped with a fast-break lay-up by Coyne. His bucket with 8:40 remaining gave the guests their first lead of the contest at 59-58.
The teams were knotted at 66-66 with less than six minutes to play when St. Amour hit his seventh and final three-pointer of the contest and Majors made two free throws to quickly push the margin to five points. The Panthers later extended the lead to 82-73 on two Daly foul shots, but the Bobcats crept back to within two points (84-82) in the final minute on a three-pointer by Nick Gilpin with 26.9 seconds on the clock. Two free throws by St. Amour were quickly answered by a put back from Delpeche, but Daly secured the victory with two foul shots with 8.6 ticks remaining.
St. Amour poured in a career-high 34 points on 11-21 shooting, including a 7-15 effort from three-point range. In the process, he moved into third place on the program's career scoring list with 1,578 points, in addition to setting a single-season mark for three pointers in a season with 97. Daly boasted a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 11 assists, while McCord also posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Majors also reached double figures in scoring for the Panthers with 10 points.
Marcus Delpeche topped the Bobcats with 18 points, while Malcolm Delpeche had a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards. Coyne added 15 points and Gilpin netted 14, as both players went 4-7 from behind the three-point arc.
Middlebury shot 43.7 percent (31-71) for the game, while the Bobcats connected on 46.9 percent (30-64). The Panthers had 26 assists in the victory, giving them 509 for the season and eclipsing the previous single-season record of 484 set in 2015-16.