The men’s basketball season came to an end this past weekend when the Cardinals fell just a tiebreaker short of the eighth and final spot in the NESCAC playoffs. After beating Hamilton 63-60 in an exciting win on Friday, Feb. 14, the Cards fell to Little Three rival Williams 87-70 the next day.
Wesleyan came out hot against Hamilton, hitting 7 of its first 9 shots of the game to jump out to a 21-9 lead just over five minutes into the first half. The Cardinals were a perfect 4-4 from beyond the arc during the run as the game’s leading scorer BJ Davis ’16 hit 3 straight from beyond the arc on his way to a 19-point night.
Although Wesleyan led for the majority of the game, the Continentals were able to keep within striking distance, not allowing a lead greater than 12 at any point to the Cardinals. Hamilton began to mount a comeback in the second half, tying the game at 50 with just over seven minutes to go in regulation.
The Cardinals quickly responded, as baskets from Joseph Kuo ’17, Rashid Epps ’16, and Davis put Wesleyan back up by seven with four minutes to go. However, after two minutes of scoreless basketball, Hamilton scored on three possessions in a row to take a one-point lead with just 47 seconds to go.
After a Wesleyan timeout, Jack Mackey ’16 made a perfect pass from the top of the key to Epps under the basket, where Epps put his team back up with just 23 seconds to go. Hamilton missed a potential game-winning shot with seven seconds left, and Joe Edmonds ’16 came down with the rebound before hitting two free throws to ice the game.
Edmonds said that right after winning Friday’s game, he and his teammates were under the impression their team had just clinched a playoff spot.
“When you look at [the win] in context on Friday night, after we thought we were in the tournament, it was obviously a big win,” Edmonds said. “It’s still nice to build off of it going into next year, knowing that we’ve beaten Hamilton, the sixth seed. It’s different; when you look at it in context on Friday when you think you’ve clinched, [the win] is a lot nicer than finding out two days later that it didn’t mean as much.”
The Cardinals faced off against Williams on Saturday afternoon with a chance to push themselves ahead of Tufts and Colby in the NESCAC standings. Earlier this year, the Ephs had defeated Wesleyan in Williamstown 91-74.
Although the two teams began the game trading blows to a 22-22 tie with just less than six minutes left in the first half, Williams began to pull away and opened up a double-digit lead by halftime. Though the Cardinals cut the lead down to 10 multiple times in the second half, they were unable to complete a comeback as the season came to a close.
“Offensively, I thought we played well,” Edmonds said. “Their zone defense didn’t give us much trouble, but Williams just outscores people. It’s not that they have anyone more talented, but their style of play is centered on scoring the ball. You really have to put up a fight defensively to beat them.”
Harry Rafferty ’17 noted that the game was representative of the season as a whole.
“I think that game sums up a lot of what our season was like,” he said. “[Williams] had a lot of timely offensive rebounds in that game, and a lot of times this season it felt like it was an untimely offensive rebound, an untimely turnover, or an untimely foul. We’ve played in a lot of close games this year that haven’t gone our way.”
The Cardinals finished the season 11-13 overall with a 4-6 in-conference record, which was the same NESCAC record as the seventh and eighth seeds, Tufts and Colby, respectively. The victory against Hamilton guaranteed that Wesleyan would have the same, if not better, in-conference record as Tufts and Colby. However, the first tiebreak criteria were the head-to-head results during the regular season; though Wesleyan beat Tufts, the Cards lost to Colby, who in turn lost to Tufts on Friday night. Because the three teams went 1-1 against each other, a second tiebreaker was needed.
“Since each team posted four conference wins, results against the league’s top four teams were compared,” the official NESCAC website reported in its seeding release on Sunday night. “Colby and Tufts each went 1-3, while Wesleyan was 0-4, eliminating the Cardinals from contention.”
Even though Wesleyan did not make the playoffs this year, Rafferty proposed that this year represented a year of growth for the Cardinals. Heading into this season, Wesleyan had lost its top 3 scorers from last year; 10 of the 15 Cardinals on this year’s roster were underclassmen.
“I think if I had to put this season into one word, I’d say ‘growth,’” Rafferty said. “We had such a young team, with so many guys who had little to no college basketball experience, that we had to learn a lot and learn on the fly. Along with growth, I’d say optimistic. I think we have so much talent and so much heart on this team.”
Edmonds agreed with his teammate’s assessment and is ready to take the court with more experience when the men’s basketball team kicks off the 2014-15 season.
“On paper we’re young,” Edmonds said. “But at the same time, I think we’re all battle-tested more than the Amherst and Williams underclassmen who didn’t play at all this year. I think that sets us up nicely to have a few years to put it all together.”