Wesleyan won its first NESCAC men's basketball tournament game since downing Trinity College, 88-76, on Feb. 22, 2003, with a resounding 78-59 quarter-final victory over visiting Bowdoin Sat., Feb. 18. With the win, the Cardinals advanced to the tournament semi-finals and played second-seeded Middlebury in a game at top-seeded Amherst Sat., Feb. 25. Amherst took on Bates in the other semi-final. The higher seeds prevailed as Middlebury downed Wesleyan, 74-52, and Amherst upended Bates, 97-74. Wesleyan was hoping for good news from the NCAA selection committee Mon., Feb. 27 to see if its season would continue as an at-large choice. The pairings were announced and Wesleyan was not among the 62 teams in the NCAA field.
Here's a taste of the action from the Cardinals' victory Saturday, Feb. 18 vs. Bowdoin ...
The Cardinals used a 14-2 run near the end of the first half to take complete control of the outcome against Bowdoin as it turned a tight 22-20 Wesleyan edge into a 36-22 margin with :38 left in the period. Halftime resulted in a 36-24 Wesleyan lead. Shasha Brown '13 (#11, right side photo), who netted a team-high 21 points, scored 10 of the Cardinals' 14 points during the decisive run. When Wesleyan netted the opening five points of the second half, the margin ballooned to 17, 41-24, and never fell below 13 for the remaining 19 minutes of play. The Wesleyan lead hit 20, 60-40, with 8:37 to go on an inside basket by Mike Callaghan '13 (#44, left side photo), who added 18 points, five rebounds and three assists to the Cardinal cause. The game's largest margin was 22, first achieved at the 4:37 mark, 71-49.
Wesleyan had defeated Bowdoin during their regular-season meeting in Brunswick, Me., 74-61, on Feb. 10.
Over the first 13:20 of the contest, neither team led by more than four points. Bowdoin held its last advantage, 17-16, on a pair of free throws by senior Will Hanley, who tied for game-high scoring honors with classmate Ryan O'Connell, both with 22 points. Hanley was a brisk 9-for-14 from the field and O'Connell a solid 8-for-12, but the rest of the Polar Bears combined for a meager 6-for-35. O'Connell canned five of his seven tries from behind the arc, equalling the three-point output of the Cardinals. Derick Beresford '13 had two of Wesleyan's five treys and finished with 14 points. Jason Mendell '12 added 10 points for the Cardinals, who shot 48.3 percent from the floor for the game.
Hanley and freshman Bryan Hurley both had three assists for Bowdoin while Hanley produced a strong double-double as he led all rebounders with 11. Wesleyan was paced on the glass by Bryan Galvin '15 with seven. Bowdoin had a slight 42-35 edge on the boards, but dominated the offensive side, 15-7.
Wesleyan took extraordinary care of the ball throughout the contest, committing a mere five turnovers. Two of those came via player-control fouls. Bowdoin turned the ball over 14 times while finishing its season with a 17-8 record.
Wesleyan added to its school-record win total with its 20th victory, now 20-5 on the year. No prior Cardinal squad had won more than 18 games in a season. Matching up with Middlebury in the NESCAC semis, Wesleyan took the then undefeated and top-ranked nationally Panthers down to the wire in a game played in Middletown, Conn. Jan. 14, before falling in a tight 65-62 decision during the regular-season battle.
Against Middlebury in the playoffs, the score was a tight 26-25 in favor of the Panthers with 3:38 left before a 16-2 run into halftime gave Middlebury a hefty 42-27 edge at intermission. Wesleyan opened the second half on a 9-0 run to get as close as six during the opening 10 minutes of the second period, but Middlebury again rattled off a substantial scoring streak and pulled ahead by 20, 63-43, with 7:19 to go before capturing the 22-point triumph. Callaghan led Wesleyan with 16 points while Brown added 14 and Thomas chipped in with 10. Thomas and Callaghan both had seven rebounds to carry the load in that area.
Jason Mendell '12 finished his career with 1,133 points, ranking ninth all-time at Wesleyan. Brown will take his 1,333 point total into his senior season, needing just 360 points to become Wesleyan's all-time leading scorer. Regional honors will likely be pouring in for Brown over the next few weeks.