In early Dec., BJ Davis ’16 nailed a game winner against Williams to secure Wesleyan’s first regular-season win over the Ephs since the 2011-12 season. On Friday, Wesleyan took on the Ephs again, this time at home on senior night, with the hopes of securing a share of the Little Three Title and thereby snapping their 14-year championship drought.
The large contingent of fans who attended what was likely Wesleyan’s most hyped game of the year were disappointed with the start of the contest. Through the game’s first seven minutes, a three by Davis marked the team’s only score. Wesleyan kept the deficit from ballooning on the strength of its sneakily dominant defense, but were unable to find an offensive rhythm amidst an onslaught of errant passes and ill-conceived jumpers.
Captain Jack Mackey ’16 was clearly unwilling to accept this result. His frenetic energy on both ends of the court seemed to revitalize the Cards’ offense, and his layup with about eight minutes left put Wesleyan ahead 14-13. As the half drew to a close, Mackey reminded the crowd of his Wesleyan record breaking single-season three-pointer stat last season. With the score sitting at 29-26 in favor of Williams, the guard drained a shot that was perhaps taken as close to half court as it was to the three-point line.
After a pair of free throws put the Ephs ahead again, Kevin O’Brien ’19 found Mackey behind the arc to give Wesleyan the advantage. Williams again made two free throws on its next possession to pull ahead, which Mackey countered by converting a layup on the following Cardinal possession to give the home team a 34-33 halftime lead.
Though Mackey’s shot seemed to go awry in the second half, he still set the tone by seemingly outworking everyone on the floor. About a minute into the half, the captain smartly knocked the ball away from a Williams big man attempting to operate in the post. As the ball rolled towards the sideline, Mackey laid out to keep the ball in bounds, but was unsuccessful by the narrowest of margins. This type of play, especially in his last home game, served as an apt microcosm of the captain’s career contributions to his team.
Despite Mackey and Co.’s best efforts, the momentum clearly seemed to be swinging in favor of Williams. With top scorer Daniel Aronowitz struggling, Ephs head coach Kevin App removed him from the game and placed the keys to the offense in the hands of sophomore guard Cole Teal. Teal responded by sinking a pair of treys to stretch the away squad’s lead to 47-39.
After a scoreless stretch by both sides, the Red and Black finally found its groove. Harry Rafferty ’17 bought some open space with great off-ball movement and sunk an off-balance three. Starting center Joseph Kuo ’17 then collected a rebound on the defensive end, hustled to the offensive end, and converted a layup in the post. To cap off the run, Nathan Krill ’18 stole the ball from Aronowitz and went coast to coast for a monster dunk, electrifying the Cardinal faithful and prompting App to use a timeout.
As the clock continued to run down, each side struggled to create separation from the other. After a layup by Williams stretched the Ephs’ lead to five with about six minutes to play, Davis decided to remind the crowd why he has been Wesleyan’s most celebrated player this season. From that point on, Davis would be the only Cardinal to score, tallying the team’s final 15 points of the game.
Over the next four minutes, Davis would personally outscore Williams 11-0 to give the home team a six-point lead. A Williams layup and a pair of free throws by Aronowitz cut the margin to two, and Davis missed one of two free throws on the offensive end, giving the away team the ball with under a minute to play in a one-possession game.
First-year Williams guard Bobby Casey, who had been derided all game by the crowd for his Bieber-esque haircut and youthful appearance, took the ball up the court and charged into the lane. Casey was fouled by Kuo and threw up a circus layup attempt, which dropped through the net after taking a friendly roll. Casey then converted the free throw to tie the game up with 37 seconds left.
After running some time off the clock, Davis hoisted a three-point attempt which clanked off the rim. Fortunately, Rashid Epps ’16 forced a jump ball which he won, putting the ball back in the hands of Davis. With the shot clock dead, Davis held onto the ball near half-court for about ten seconds to ensure that Williams would not have a chance at a final shot. With eight seconds remaining, Davis started moving slowly towards the hoop.
After reaching the three point arc, Davis gained the slightest bit of separation by making his man bite on a crossover. With space to shoot, Davis put up another three attempt, which swished through the net as he backpedaled towards half-court. The crowd erupted as Davis and his teammates celebrated in a scene that was incredibly reminiscent of Kemba Walker’s senior season at The University of Connecticut. Aronowitz took the inbound for Williams and put up a shot near half-court that fell nowhere near the hoop, securing the Wesleyan victory.
Davis said that the team’s experience in tight contests this season played a role in his ability to keep his poise in the clutch.
“I just wanted to make a play for the team and get the win,” said Davis. “We’ve been in a lot of close games this season so we were prepared, and coach and my teammates trusted me to make the big play.”
As far as his specific strategy on the final possession, Davis admitted that he intended to take a shot from closer to the basket but decided to ad lib.
“I definitely wanted to get to the basket and maybe get fouled or create an opportunity for someone else to get open,” Davis said. “But when the defender sagged off a little bit and gave me space to pull up I had to take it.”
Kelly Hogan ’19 said that the normally contained Davis couldn’t help getting swept up in the team’s post-game excitement.
“It was pretty wild,” he said. “We were psyched. BJ is always pretty even-keeled, but we were all going crazy.”
It seemed only appropriate that on his senior night, Davis would sink his second game-winner against Williams of the season. With the victory, the Cards clinched the Little Three title that had so long eluded them, giving them a much-needed morale boost as they head into the NESCAC championship. Kuo addressed what the team needs to accomplish in order to leave the tournament with a trophy.
“Staying focused and not overlooking anybody,” said Kuo. “We have to play fast and smart basketball. That’s when we are at our best.”
To wrap up the regular season, the team will play at Bowdoin and Colby this weekend as they attempt to improve their tournament seeding.