Mens Basketball to Host Playoff Game
A week ago, on February 2, the Colby men's basketball team was recognized in the d3hoops.com national poll as the 25th ranked school in all of NCAA Division III. The honor was rightfully bestowed, as the Mules had just come off a successful home weekend defeating Trinity College and Amherst College while maintaining a perfect 5-0 record in the ultra competitive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Besides a non-conference loss to Bowdoin College on December 12 and an 88-82 loss to Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia on December 29, Colby had no other blemishes on its resume.
Unfortunately, Colby still had its hardest road trip remaining for the regular season. This past weekend, February 5 and 6, the Mules traveled down to Massachusetts and then back up to Vermont to take on the second ranked Williams College Ephs and the eighth ranked Middlebury College Panthers on consecutive days.
Both games followed a similar trend. In the early minutes, both Colby and opponent were locked in a defensive battle. Neither team could find open looks at the basket, and ball movement was stifled for both squads. Against Williams, the Mules' defensive intensity appeared to fade in the later part of the first half. Williams took advantage: scoring on the fast break and hitting 3-point shots, the Ephs pulled away for a 42-22 halftime lead and ultimately for an 82-58 victory. Williams also kept the Colby offense at bay. Adam Choice '10 led with 24 points, but no other Colby player finished with more than six points.
Against Middlebury, the Mules had a more balanced scoring attack, with Mike Russell '11 and Justin Sherman '10 registering 16 and 12 points respectively to go along with Choice's 18. However, although the Mules had three players in double figures, as a team Colby shot only 35.1% from the field and 16.1% from three. The Panthers also shot a low percentage from the field, but they took advantage of open jump shots and hit nine three-pointers (47.4% for the game). Colby once again fell, to the tune of 72-57.
After a run of great play leading up to this weekend, it was disconcerting to see the high-powered offenses of Williams and Middlebury take control like they did. At times, the 25th ranked Colby could do nothing to keep the ball out of the basket.
"All season we have really beat teams up on defense," senior center Chas Woodward said. "This past weekend we let our guard down and we got punished for it."
Woodward speaks the truth as Colby puts out the second ranked scoring defense in the NESCAC, allowing only 62.2 points per game. Williams and Middlebury outscored this average by 20 and 10 points, respectively.
The trip to Massachusetts and Vermont in one weekend is extremely grueling and requires a tremendous amount of time on a bus. For this reason Colby could find some solace in its defensive breakdown, but the team refuses to use it as justification for the losses.
"Anyone who has played away at one of these schools knows how tough it is to get your legs back after a long ride, but we can't use it as an excuse. You have to be game ready for a top team regardless of the situation," Woodward said.
Even after a disappointing weekend Colby is still guaranteed to host the first round of the NESCAC playoffs at home. The Mules (16-4, 5-2 NESCAC) are locked into third place in the conference behind Williams College (21-1, 7-0 NESCAC) and Middlebury College (19-2, 6-1 NESCAC). Bates College (12-10, 4-4 NESCAC) is in fourth, but cannot surpass Colby because the Mules hold the tiebreaker with only one weekend of regular season NESCAC play remaining.
"The home game is critical for us," Head Coach Dick Whitmore said. "It is a reward for a great NESCAC season."
This weekend, February 12 and 13 Trinity College (10-11, 3-4 NESCAC) and Wesleyan University (10-12, 2-5) make their own grueling road trip to Waterville. Colby will host both games in the Harold Alfond gymnasium and will look to build some momentum heading into the NESCAC tournament.