The Middlebury College men's basketball team will make its first appearance in the NCAA final four when they travel to Salem, Virginia this week to play at the Salem Civic Center. Wooster (30-2) will meet Williams (29-2) in the first semifinal on Friday, March 18 at 6 p.m., while the Panthers (28-1) will battle St. Thomas (28-3) in the second contest at 8 p.m. The winners meet on Saturday, March 19 at 3:30 p.m. in the NCAA Championship game. For ticket information, go to: http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php
Middlebury is making its fourth consecutive trip to the tournament, earning an automatic bid after capturing its second NESCAC Championship in the past three years. The Panthers also won the NESCAC crown in ’09, earning at-large bids to the tourney in ’08 and ’10. Middlebury is 4-3 in NCAA play, falling at Rochester 56-43 in a first-round game in ’08, while dropping a 78-76 game at home to Bridgewater State in the second-round two years ago. Last season the team hosted a regional, winning its first NCAA game with a 64-57 victory over Gordon. Middlebury fell in the regional final the following day to Rhode Island College, 75-59.
On March 5, the Panthers, who earned a first-round bye, earned a second-round win over Western Connecticut before a sold-out crowd in Pepin Gym. Middlebury led 40-28 at the half, led by 16 points and nine boards from junior Ryan Sharry. The Panthers led by 18 with 9:12 remaining, going on a 9-2 run to put the game out of reach. A hoop and a pair of free throws 30 seconds later from Nolan Thompson made it a 70-45 game with 4:34 left. The lead grew to as many as 28 on a late three, before the Panthers closed out the game with a 79-53 win.
Thompson aided Sharry’s 16-point, 13 rebound effort with a dozen, Jamal Davis added 11 with six boards, while Wolfin scored 10 with four assists. The Middlebury defense held WestConn to 33 points below their average of 85.9 ppg, holding them well-below their average of 8.4 threes/game with two. The Colonials, who normally shoot .451 from the floor, saw the nation’s top field goal percentage defense hold them to .350.
Last weekend, Middlebury advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals after a 61-52 win at Rochester. Leading by one in the second half, Middlebury went on 8-0 run behind a pair of threes from Jake Wolfin to give them a 43-34 advantage with 13:07 left to play. The lead remained in single digits, with the Yellowjackets making it a four-point game at 48-44 with 7:41 remaining on a hoop from Nate Novosel. Middlebury led by as many as nine later in the half, closing with a 61-52 win after a pair of free throws from Wolfin with 21 seconds remaining.
The Middlebury defense blocked 14 shots in the game, holding Rochester to .302 shooting from the floor on the night. The Panthers held a 42-34 advantage on the boards, shooting .453 from the field.
Sharry led the balanced attack with 15 points, 10 boards and four blocks for his 14th double-double of the season. Wolfin added 13 points and four assists, Joey Kizel had 10 with five boards, while Locke scored five with eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
Middlebury advanced to the final four after the Panthers topped St. Mary’s (Md.) by a score of 65-50. Middlebury came out firing in the second half, opening with an 11-2 run to take a 38-29 lead at the 13:48 mark. Sharry hit a two and a three to start the run, with Wolfin scoring four points in the early spurt. The Panthers methodically increased their lead, reaching double-digits for good with 6:18 left on a dunk from Sharry with a helper from Wolfin. Middlebury led by as many as 16 in the game, ending with a 65-50 victory.
Wolfin netted 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting with nine assists and three steals. Sharry scored 11 with 10 boards, while Locke scored 13 with nine boards and six blocks. Thompson added 10 points in the win, while Joey Kizel netted seven with four assists off the bench.
Middlebury shot a red-hot .625 in the second half, finishing the game at .553, going 4 of 10 from behind the arc. The Panthers held St. Mary’s to .339 from the floor, including 3 of 13 from three-point range.
The Panthers are enjoying another record-breaking year, setting the school mark for wins in a season with 28 against just one loss. Middlebury’s winning percentage (.966) is tops in the nation, with the Panthers rising to a program-best ranking of second nationally (D3Hoops.com). Middlebury is also among the nation’s leaders in scoring margin (+17 – fifth), scoring defense (56.2 – third) and rebound margin (+9.1 – fifth). Defense has once again been the key to the Panthers’ success, with the team leading the nation in field goal percentage defense (.344) for the third consecutive season. Middlebury also boasts a nation’s-best 7.9 blocked shots/game, a category they’ve led the country in for the past four years.
Senior Andrew Locke has been the anchor of the nation’s best defense and was recently named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, also earning second-team honors. The 6'10" center is currently third in Division III with 4.2 blocked shots/game, while altering many more. Locke is second on the team in scoring (10.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) this season, shooting .634 from the floor. He owns school records for blocked shots in a game (13), season (114) and career (373). Locke enjoyed a triple double earlier this season with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks in a win at Colby-Sawyer, while owning five double-doubles.
Junior Ryan Sharry has 14 double-doubles on the year, leading the team with 13.8 points and 10.5 rebounds/game, while ranking third with 25 steals. The first-team All-NESCAC selection is shooting .523 from the floor this season, while ranking second only to Locke with 2.1 blocks/contest. Sharry owns 931 points, 633 boards and 136 blocks through 80 career games. After a pair of double-doubles at the NESCAC Championship weekend, Sharry was named the league’s player of the week.
Sophomore Jake Wolfin runs the point, leading the team with 5.1 assists/game to go along with a team-high 48 thefts on the season. Wolfin averages 9.1 points/game, with 38 threes. He earned a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists in a win at Plattsburgh earlier this season. Wolfin has an assist in every game this season, including a dozen in a win over Rensselaer.
Senior Ryan Wholey is tied for third on the team in scoring with 9.7 points/game this season. He has played in 95 career games at Middlebury, scoring 631 points. Wholey has earned double-digits in points 11 times this season, including 24 at Plattsburgh State.
Sophomore Nolan Thompson rounds out the regular starting five, as one of the team’s top defenders. He is tied for third on the squad in scoring with 9.7 points/game, while leading the team with 40 three-point field goals made. Thompson averaged 24.5 ppg over a pair of NESCAC road games in mid-January, earning NESCAC Player of the Week honors.
Senior Jamal Davis and rookie Joey Kizel are often first off the bench for the Panthers. Davis shoots .595 from the floor and owns 30 blocked shots, while averaging 4.7 points per game. Kizel has enjoyed a solid rookie season, ranking second only to Wolfin with 3.4 assists/game. He shoots .450 from the floor, scoring 8.1 points/contest.
Head Coach Jeff Brown is now in his 14th year at the helm of the Panthers, having previously served as the Bates bench boss for three seasons. He has led the team to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances with a combined record of 96-17 in that time. The team has also won a pair of NESCAC Championships (’09 & ’11) under his tenure, with him earning NESCAC Coach of the Year honors in ’09 and ’11.
A 1982 graduate of the University of Vermont, Brown scored more than 1,000 points and earned induction into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame during his Catamount basketball career. He is 10th on the all-time scoring list (1,336 points), second in steals (170), seventh in assists (428), eighth in field goals made (526), and ninth in free throws made (284). While playing at UVM, Brown averaged 12.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. He spent three years as the top assistant basketball coach at Manhattan College in New York, before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach for nine years (1985-94).
2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four
Semifinals, Friday, March 18 – Salem Civic Center, Salem, Va.
Wooster (30-2) vs. Williams (29-2) – 6 p.m.
Middlebury (28-1) vs. St. Thomas (28-3) – 8 p.m.
NCAA Championship, Saturday, March 19 – Salem Civic Center, Salem, Va.
Tip-off – 3:30 p.m.