The Bobcats are really raising their game in NESCAC play, particularly against the best teams. They gave #11 Middlebury a terrific game in an 82-76 loss two weekends ago, but it was last weekend that Bates showed signs of being a dangerous spoiler as we near the playoffs. They should have won their 83-81 loss to the 13-3 Salem State, setting them up for a very tough road game against Tufts in Medford. But Bates was ready. They hung with the Jumbos for the whole game, ultimately winning on a layup by Nick Gilpin ’20 with eight seconds left on the clock. The reasons for Bates’ turnaround can be boiled down to shooting. Bates has always relied on the three pointer, but now they are hitting them. In this recent four game stretch, they are shooting 42% from three. Jeff Spellman ’20 is a legit go-to scorer, averaging 17.4 PPG on 53% shooting in league play. Tom Coyne ’18 has also stepped up of late, shooting 40% from three in league play, including 4-8 against Tufts. When Bates is hitting shots, they can hang with almost anyone.
Middlebury Guards Joey Leighton ‘20 and Hilal Dahleh ’19
Look I had the margin and winner right in my preview of the Middlebury-Williams showdown, but my Middlebury Key Player was way off. It turned out not to be Max Bosco ’21 (who is still going to swing a key game this season, mark my words) but the other Middlebury guards who turned the tide against the Ephs, namely Dahleh and Leighton. Both players are essential to Middlebury’s success. They have been the only consistent outside shooters on the roster in NESCAC play, at 44% and 50% from three respectively, and won the WIlliams game. They combined for 34 points on 13-21 shooting, 4-5 from three. When Middlebury struggles, it is when Jack Daly ’18 is forcing shots because there is no scoring from anywhere else on the floor. Dahleh is also a terrific defender and is crafty getting to the rim, while Leighton has shown flashes of being able to create for himself off the dribble with a nice step back move. If either or both of these players can continue to put up double figures, Middlebury’s offense could hit a new gear. Also, don’t be surprised to see Leighton maybe climb into the starting lineup over first year Jack Farrell ’21 if Coach Brown feels more firepower is needed.
From good news (Middlebury winning) we go to bad news (Amherst winning.) I kid, I kid. But seriously, the Mammoths, after looking dead in the water for much of the season, made Hamilton look like a JV team last weekend in handing the Continentals their first loss. And they did pretty much all of their damage on the defensive end. They held Hamilton, the best offense in the league so far by pretty much every statistical measure, to 49 points on 29% shooting. Hamilton had four assists against 14 turnovers, and weren’t able to find any room in the paint. Amherst outrebounded them 48-34 and blocked 10 shots. And there were good signs on the offensive end for Amherst as well. Johnny McCarthy ’18 (12 points, 5-6 shooting continued to trend upwards in terms of efficiency after a rough start) and Eric Sellew ’20 had one of his best games. Amherst’s offense still has a ways to go before it is dangerous, but against Hamilton they showed signs of having the kind of defense that makes it not matter.
Sure Bates hit some threes, but Tufts has to be able to take care of the Bobcats at home. And indeed, the Bates loss was the continuation of the struggles that allowed Middlebury to blow them out in the second half the night before; namely, three point shooting and effort. Middlebury had an impossible 70 rebounds in their game against the Jumbos, a combination of many missed shots and Tufts being several steps slow to the ball. And although they out-rebounded Bates, they only shot 1-17 from downtown, and were still unable to put the Bobcats away despite being up six with four minutes left at home, the perfect time to put the nail in the coffin. Tufts looked to be right back in the mix for the top seed, but they may still have a long way to go.
Hamilton’s Three Point Shooting
We already covered how dominant Amherst’s defense was against the Continentals, but Hamilton has been struggling from the outside for a while now, and it is really impacting their offense. Although they still lead the league in overall three point shooting at 37%, in league play they have fallen to seventh at just 33%. They have shot under 32% from three in five of their last six games. G Tim Doyle ’19 has especially fallen off a cliff, hitting just 6 of his last 28 three pointers. Kena Gilmour ’20 isn’t a reliable three point threat and neither is Peter Hoffmann ’19, so if no one is hitting around those two dominant paint and mid range scorers, teams can pack it in and really hamstring the pace and spacing of the Hamilton offense. It’s definitely not too late for Hamilton to crater like they did last season, and if they do, three point shooting will be the culprit.