Joe Edmonds goes up for a layup late in the game Friday night.
ESPN brings dozens of Division I basketball games into our homes every week. While that is a wonderful things for sports junkies, those of us in New England have a opportunity to see some excellent basketball in our own backyards. The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is one of the best Division III leagues in the country – not just in basketball, but across the board in the 13 men’s and 14 women’s sports that it sponsors championships in. You’re really missing the boat if you don’t take the time to take check them out.
Friday night was the 2014-15 conference openers, and I had the chance to broadcast the men’s basketball game featuring Colby College of Waterville, ME and the Wesleyan University Cardinals of Middletown, CT. In a game that literally came down to the last shot, the visiting Colby Mules escaped from Wesleyan’s Silloway Gymnasium with an 82-80 win.
Wesleyan, which had a six-game winning streak snapped in the loss and fell to 10-3, led by as much as nine in the first half and held a 44-37 advantage at the half. The Cardinal front court of Rashid Epps and Joseph Kuo combined for 17 points and and seven rebounds in the period. Sam Willson led the Colby attack with 15 points.
Colby, which improved to 8-5 in the win, outscored Wesleyan 14-5 in the first six minutes of the second half and took the lead at 52-51 on a Connor O’Neil three with 13:50 left.
The two teams traded baskets and the lead for the next few minutes until back-to-back layups from Luke Westman and Willson gave Colby a 64-60 lead with 7:19 left in the game. Willson’s bucket have him 26 points, but it was his final bucket and his team had to rely on other’s down the stretch.
A BJ Davis basket for Wesleyan with 5:15 left tied the game at 66-66, but a Wesleyan foul on the next Colby possession resulted in two free throws for Westman. He canned them both to give the Mules the lead for good.
Colby stretch the lead to 78-72 with 1:27 left after a three-pointer by John Gallego, and the Cardinals appeared to have run out of time. With Colby leading 79-73, Kuo made a layup for the Cardinals to cut the gap to four. Davis then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and drained a three to cut the Colby lead to 79-78 with :53 remaining.
After a Colby timeout, Westman made a layup with :29 left to put the Mules ahead 81-78.
The next Wesleyan possession was a testament to tenacity, but heartbreaking all the same for the hometown fans. Davis missed a jumper, but Joe Edmonds grabbed the offensive rebound. He kicked it outside to Harry Rafferty, who had a three-point shot blocked by O’Neil. The rebounded went out of bounds off Colby, giving Wesleyan another chance with :12 left.
Rafferty missed another three off the inbounds pass, but Kuo grabbed yet another offensive rebound. He threw it out to Jack Mackey, who missed a trey, but Edmonds secured yet another offensive rebound and was fouled with :04 left. For those of you scoring at home, that’s FIVE chances.
Edmonds made both free throws to close the gap to 81-80, and Wesleyan fouled Westman on the inbounds pass to send him to the line for two shots (both teams were well over the limit by then). Westman made the first but missed the second. Edmonds grabbed the rebound with :3.5 left and raced to half court, but was unable to get his desperation shot off before the horn sounded.
The four or five hundred people in the building were treated to a wonderful game. I don’t care where you go, you will be hard pressed to find a game more exciting than what I saw tonight. There are no scholarships in Division III. There were 30 players on the two benches playing for the love of the game tonight. And every fan in Silloway Gymnasium tonight loved what they saw.