WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The No. 18-ranked Middlebury College men's basketball team shook off a two-week layoff to capture two victories by an average of more than 22 points in 24 hours and advance to next weekend's sectional round of the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament.
Middlebury (21-6) followed Friday's 83-63 victory over Lebanon Valley College by stopping No. 10 Eastern Connecticut State University's 12-game home winning streak Saturday night, shooting 53 percent from the floor in building an 18-point halftime lead and cruising to an 83-58 victory at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Middlebury had brought a three-game losing streak into the NCAAs after being eliminated in the first round of its conference tournament Feb. 17. The Panthers were an at-large selection to their ninth NCAA tournament and proceeded to win their NCAA opener Friday night against Lebanon Valley for the seventh straight time.
Eastern (26-4) had won 13 of 14 home games this year, having chalked up its 12th straight Friday night in a 75-59 victory over Johnson & Wales University.
Against Eastern, Middlebury's inside rotation of starters 6-foot-8 inch Matt Folger, and 6-7 Nick Tarantino and 6-7 Eric McCord dominated inside, limiting Eastern to just two points off second chances, sparking their team to a 54-26 advantage on the boards and combined for 26 points, 22 rebounds and five assists. Eastern started only one player standing as tall as 6-foot-6.
While the Panthers were shooting 52.5 percent from the floor, their defense held Eastern to a season-low point total, season-low three-point field goal percentage (19.4) and second-lowest three-point field goal total (6) this year. The Warriors had collected 14 three-pointers in Friday's night's victory.
After shutting down Lebanon Valley's top scorer Friday night, Middlebury freshman guard Jack Farrell was primarily responsible for negating the three-point field goal marksmanship of Eastern senior guard Kendall Marquez (Willimantic). Averaging 3.0 three-point field goals per game this year with a 40.4 percentage from distance, Marquez got off only five attempts against Farrell's defense, hitting his only one with three minutes left and the Warriors trailing by 20 before fouling out with 1:29 left.
Jack Daly led Middlebury again with an all-around game. Coming of a triple-double Friday night, the 6-foot-3 inch senior guard had 11 points and game-highs of 12 rebounds and seven assists in a team-high 33 minutes. Farrell, who managed only five points on 2-of-14 shooting in his first-ever NCAA game Friday, responded with a game-high 19 points and added six rebounds and four assists. Hilal Dahleh added 16 points (6-of-9 from the floor) and McCord came off the bench for 12 points and ten rebounds.
Eastern, which won a program-record total of games this year, had four players in double figures. Freshman guard Cory Muckle (Westbrook) topped the team with 13 points (3-of-4 from distance), senior forward Tarchee Brown (Rockville) adding 12 points and team-highs of seven rebounds and five assists, sophomore guard Jake Collagan (Wetherfield) 12 points and sophomore point guard Carlos Gonzalez (Springfield, MA) ten points before fouling out with 4:16 remaining.
Collagan accounted for all but four of Eastern's bench points, while Middlebury got 23 bench points from four players.
Middlebury featured outstanding balance in its two NCAA wins, with five players averaging between 11 and 12 points, and five averaging between 4.5 and 7.5 rebounds (with Daly averaging 11.5). The Panthers shot 47.4 percent from the floor and 71.4 percent from the foul line and limited their two opponents to 34.2 shooting (27.1 from three-point range).
In two games, Eastern was held to 36.0 percent shooting (30.8 from three-point range).
The program's all-time leading scorer, Brown closed his 112-game career with 1,959 points, with his career average of 17.5 ranking sixth all-time. With 583 points this year, he fell seven points shy of setting a season record for points and equaled the second-most field goals made (215) in a season. Ranked second nationally in steals (98) and third in steals per game (3.27), Gonazlez set program season records in both of those categories, and his final total of 159 assists equals the third-most in program history. Marquez's 89 three-pointers equal the second-most in a season in program history and his total three-point attempts (223) are the third-most in a season in program history. The team broke the season record of 219 three-point field goals, with 288.