An pair of emphatic wins this weekend is sending the men’s basketball team to the NESCAC playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Cardinals (16-8, 5-5 NESCAC) dismantled Hamilton (2-8 NESCAC) with a barrage of threes in Friday’s 88-53 win, and went on to clinch their spot in the tournament with a definitive 74-52 win over rival Williams on Saturday.
“I think something that’s been really great about our team all year is that we really do believe we can beat anyone,” Harry Rafferty ’17 said. “Sure, it wavered a little after the Amherst game because that was a bit of a gut check for us, but we had practice on Monday and just worked through it. We had a great week of practice, which led into these two games, so that definitely added to the great results this weekend.”
Joe Edmonds ’16 had a historic performance on Friday night against the Continentals, dropping a career-high 29 points with a program-record nine threes. Edmonds shot a blistering 9 of 11 from beyond the arc, leading the Cards to a school-record 18 threes as a team.
“Hamilton plays exclusively zone defense,” said Head Coach Joe Reilly. “They trap, but we’re a great zone-offensive team, and we were really locked in with our preparation, and we also historically have a great plan of attack. When you play against a zone, you have to make threes, and that’s just the nature of the game. We shot with a lot of confidence after shooting a lot in practice that week.”
It only took a couple minutes for the Cards to get going against Hamilton, coming out of the gate hot and jumping out to an insurmountable 56-25 lead at halftime. Guards Jack Mackey ’16 and BJ Davis ’16 each sunk three baskets from beyond the arc in the win, while Rafferty led the Cards with seven assists.
“We did a really good job of playing inside-out basketball,” Rafferty said. “We weren’t necessarily swinging it around and taking a ton of shots, but we would drive into the zone and kick it out in more of a dribble-drive technique. We could go down low and kick it out, and when you can do that while playing inside-out ball, you get some really good shots and some open ones. And we know we’re going to hit open shots.”
This success was essential, as Wesleyan came into this past weekend needing two wins to guarantee its spot in the playoffs. Coming off two losses against Trinity (9-1 NESCAC) and Amherst (6-4 NESCAC) last weekend, the Cardinals showed their resiliency by bouncing back with their resounding performances against Hamilton and Williams.
After falling to Williams 85-77 earlier this season, the Cardinals outplayed the Ephs in all facets of the game on Saturday to clinch their spot in the postseason. Wesleyan put up another great shooting performance at Williams, hitting 50.9 percent of its shots from the field, including 7 of 10 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“Last year, we went into the last two games of the year and thought we’d be good enough but lost out in the final two games of the tiebreaker,” Reilly said. “And we talked this weekend about how there aren’t many times in life when you get a second chance, and here we are playing the same teams as last year, so we wanted to control our own fate as opposed to splitting and hoping someone wins and someone loses.”
After getting the ball to Edmonds for much of their scoring against Hamilton, the Cardinals spread the wealth a little more on Saturday. Mackey led the team with 16 points, while Davis, Edmonds, and Joseph Kuo ’17 each chipped in with double digits as well. Wesleyan proved that it isn’t just a perimeter shooting team as well, outrebounding the Ephs 37-26.
“I think [Williams] didn’t shoot the ball well, but also we’re just playing really good defense right now,” Rafferty said. “We held Hamilton in the 50s the night before, and we held Williams in the 50s and they average way more than that per game. So if we can keep teams in the 50s, we’re a really tough team to beat. We can almost always rely on scoring 60 points with how effective our offense is.”
Williams was able to keep up with Wesleyan for most of the first half, but the Cardinals turned it on in the second half, going on a 14-0 run after the intermission to open up a 45-25 lead.
“I thought we had a good game plan [against Williams],” Reilly said. “It was very clear what our job was, and executing the game plan was huge. We knew what they were going to do because they’re a team that doesn’t really throw many curveballs at you because they kind of have their system, and the fact that we played them earlier this year definitely helped. They missed a couple open shots, but for the most part we really turned it up.”
By clinching the sixth seed, Wesleyan is slated to play at third-seeded Bates next Saturday in a NESCAC quarterfinal matchup. The Cardinals traveled to Bates once already this season and played well, but lost a late lead and dropped a 74-66 loss to the Bobcats.
“We’ve been there already, so I think our guys are mostly prepared for [the atmosphere],” Reilly said. “It is a hostile environment, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had playing this year, even if it’s someone else’s gym. I think the environment brings out the best in people, and we have some mentally tough kids who can step up.”