Panthers Edged by No. 14 Nichols in NCAA Tournament First Round

Hilal Dahleh finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists against Nichols. (photo by Rowan Sports Information)
Hilal Dahleh finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists against Nichols. (photo by Rowan Sports Information)

Middlebury battled No. 14 Nichols in a back-and-forth NCAA Tournament opening round contest, as the Bison edged the Panthers 74-71 on Friday in Rowan's Esby Gymnasium. Middlebury finishes its season at 18-8, while Nichols (26-2) advances to Saturday's regional final and plays the winner of Friday's second game between Emerson and the host Profs.

After a back-and-forth contest to start, the Bison grabbed a 19-13 advantage on a jumper by DeAnte Bruton with 13:36 left. The Panthers rattled off a 20-4 run spanning 7:07 for a 33-23 lead, capped by a three-point field goal from Will Ingram. Nichols responded with a 7-0 run, before the Panthers answered with a quick 8-0 spurt, taking a 41-30 edge on a layup from Alex Sobel at the 2:37 mark. Middlebury maintained a double-digit lead throughout the rest of the stanza, posting a 43-33 advantage at the half.

In the second half, the Bison rattled off the first 12 points of the frame, taking a 45-43 lead on a pair of free throws from Jerome Cunningham with 16:25 left. Trading small leads over the next few minutes, the Panthers gained a 62-57 edge on a three by Joey Leighton with 9:39 remaining. Nichols tallied the ensuing six points, securing a 63-62 advantage on a layup from Cunningham.

Trailing 67-64, Nichols produced the next six points, grabbing a 70-67 lead on a layup by Bruton with 1:54 remaining. After the teams traded baskets, a pair of free throws from Griffin Kornaker brought the Panthers to within 72-71 with 1:12 left. Both teams missed shots on their ensuing possessions, before Nichols' Marcos Echevarria canned two free throws for a 74-71 advantage with 22 seconds left. The Panthers called a timeout, but turned the ball over in the waning seconds and the Bison inbounded it and dribbled out the final seconds to earn the win.

Matt Folger led the Panthers with his 12th double-double of the season, scoring 15 points and pulling down 15 rebounds, while Eric McCord had his 10th double-double with 10 points and 10 boards to go along with a game-high three blocked shots. Sobel chipped in with 12 points and six boards, Kornaker added 10 points, while Hilal Dahleh tallied eight points and five rebounds to go along with three assists.

Echevarria paced Nichols with a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists, while Bruton added 22 points. Matt Morrow had 17 points, while Cunningham produced a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four blocks.

The Panthers held advantages in rebounding (49-36), points in the paint (36-24) and bench points (32-1). The Bison converted 86.2 percent (25-29) on their free throws in the contest, while Middlebury made 63.6 percent (7-11).