Best Season in Men’s Basketball History Ends in NESCAC Semis
A week after dominating Bowdoin at home in the NESCAC tournament quarterfinals to win their first playoff game since 2003, the men’s basketball Cardinals traveled to Amherst to face second-seeded Middlebury in the semifinals on Saturday, Feb. 25th.
Despite being down just 26-25 three minutes before halftime, the Cardinals saw the Panthers go on a 16-2 run before the break and take a substantial 42-27 lead into the locker room. Wesleyan showed the resiliency that has defined it this season though, storming out of intermission on a 9-0 run of its own to reduce the deficit to six points.
The game was shaping up to be a repeat of the last matchup between the two teams, a January thriller in which undefeated Middlebury, ranked first nationally at the time, beat the host Cards by just three points. However, Wes finally ran out of steam in the final thirteen minutes of Saturday’s game, when the Panthers scored 25 to the Cardinals’ 11.
“I’ve felt better. I really didn’t go out the way I wanted to, obviously,” said tri-captain Jason Mendell ’12, the team’s lone senior and the only Cardinal who will not return next season. “It’s weird; I’m just a normal basketball player now.”
Middlebury’s convincing 74-52 win sent the Panthers to the final (where they lost to the host, top-seeded Amherst, by just two points) and sent the Cards home to await Monday’s release of the NCAA Division III tournament field. Unfortunately, their season ended when the selection committee failed to award them an at-large bid.
“It would have been nice to get an at-large bid,” Mendell said, “but we should have taken care of business when we had the chance [against Middlebury].”
Although this season ended in disappointment, optimism is the prevailing theme for the rest of the Cardinals. Players were already lifting weights just hours after hearing the disappointing news from the selection committee. The team should contend for first place in the NESCAC next year behind point guard Shasha Brown ’13, the fastest Cardinal to ever score 1,000 points, forward Mike Callaghan ’13 and a strong core of rising juniors and seniors.
One of those rising seniors, forward Matthew Hogan ’13, summarized the team’s attitude on Monday.
“We’re disappointed about the tournament, but we’re already looking forward to next year,” Hogan said. “We’re only losing Jay [Mendell], who has been great, obviously, but our goal is a NESCAC championship in 2013 and we think we still have the guys to do it.”
Mendell’s career at Wesleyan was a roller-coaster ride, from winning just seven games in his (and head coach Joe Reilly’s) first year to winning a school-record 20 games this year. He will finish his time at Wesleyan as the program’s ninth-leading scorer, but his most valuable contribution was his effort in helping Reilly turn the program around. Future teams can only hope to follow the example set by this year’s Cardinal team.