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Middlebury Can’t Finish

The Panthers had Williams on the ropes, up eight with five minutes to go, and fell apart, ultimately losing by one, 64-63, after scoring only one basket in those last five minutes. The end of the game was in too many ways similar to the loss at Keene State last year, and — to a lesser extent — the close wins over Williams last year, and Tufts and Wesleyan this year. When Middlebury is up late in these big games, they start playing not-to-lose way too early, the offense becomes stagnant and clumsy, and the defense unwinds in step. It’s become so typical of this team that we have come to expect it. Something frustratingly obvious changes on the court and once it happens, we just watch and hope the buzzer goes off before the other team has taken full advantage. Whether it’s the hand-off offense or the no-penetration mindset of the guards or the timidness of the big guys down low, they become a different team and it doesn’t work and it wastes great performances. If the Panthers want to beat truly quality opponents down the road, from Keene State to Amherst to Tufts or Williams in the conference tournament, they will need to start closing aggressively and mercilessly, something of which they are capable.

On the game in general, it would be unfair not to mention the defensive performance of Nolan Thompson, who guarded forward Taylor Epley (19.8 ppg, 50% FG, 47% 3PT) and absolutely shut him down. When Epley ran around screens on the perimeter, Nolan stayed glued to his every step, usually stopping the pass altogether, and other times forcing a bad shot or a reset. When Epley went into the post, Nolan fronted him every time and the pass almost never came. Epley finished the game with 4 points (1-6 FG), 2 rebounds, 0 assists, and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes of play. The fact that Nolan can do this against a forward like Epley despite a height and size disadvantage (similar to Matt Vadas, on whom Thompson had the same effect), as well as against top point guards in the conference who are far quicker and smaller, is unbelievable. He is a special player and it’s hard to imagine a better perimeter defender will ever come through the program. (Note: Nolan was given a rest once in the game, after Epley checked out. Less than a minute after Nolan sat down, Epley was sent back into the game. Nolan got to the scorer’s table in time to come back in the game before the ball was passed in, and he never sat again. Again, special.)

James Jensen’s play also deserves recognition. He contributed 12 points (4-8 FG, 4-4 FT) on offense and was terrific on defense, forcing turnovers, hedging screens, covering ground quickly, and playing the best of any Middlebury forward against Mayer down low. Jensen brings intensity to big games, as we saw at Wesleyan, and it comes along with a dangerous combination of hustle, length, and athleticism on defense, as well as an ever-developing offensive game. He played starter minutes (31) today, as we predicted/hoped, and it would be surprising if that didn’t continue in big games down the road.

Finally, a reminder that Keene State (Tuesday night, Pepin) should not be overlooked. They beat Middlebury last year and can do it again. Hopefully we will have a post up previewing the challenges that the Owls present by Tuesday.


  1. wrote:

    Not so much playing “not to lose,” but I understand what you are saying. I view it as trying to shave all 35 seconds off the clock to reduce the remaining possessions in the game. The problem is, when they started to finally execute their offense with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, the lanes to the hoop were gone. Williams and other quality teams can play 10 seconds of defense much easier than the whole 35 seconds. They really needed to penetrate to the hoop during the whole possession and get better shot options and probably fouls on the defense.

    Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  2. wrote:

    Do we know anything about recruits for next season? With the graduation of Lynch, Thompson and Wolfin, posters are counting Midd out after this year. Amherst and Williams are supposedly loaded for next year and I haven’t seen anyone mentioned for Midd. We will really need to have freshmen impact players come in along with existing non starters stepping up.

    Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    Yes, we will have an update or note on the recruits soon probably, there are still some things up in the air. There will be enough talent next year for Midd to be competitive again.

    Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Permalink
  4. wrote:

    your blog ought to be retitled: Midd didn’t finish. Despite other ‘closies’, one thing that ‘TheBoys’ have done throughout this season is to finish. Broken down and using the last ten minutes from 12 ‘W’s (not including the So.Vt.; Green Mt.; Johnson St.& St.Joe’s games which were pretty much blowouts by the half). Prior to Williams, Midd was plus 80 in scoring, FG percentage defense was 43.2%(at 67-155 incl. Wes. and Bates, who were very hot). Without those games in the equation it is 38.1%- very good. Midd’s FT shooting- an achilles heel even in our FF run- is excellent at 86-109. All this essentially when the clock goes under 10. Thoughts to take away from Sat. are that we are limited on ‘O’ inside. And we were limited throughout because Lynch only played 16 mins. Typically we can rely on enough ‘O’ from the G.’s and HunterM. to get over the lack of Lynch. But going 4-25(Jake, Nolan and Hunter) won’t get it done anytime. Further, down the stretch Maker stuck with a lot of ‘zone’, primarily because they have problems matching up on ‘D’ in the ‘man’. When Midd almost cracked them (late first H.) we shredded their ‘man’. The zone had a lot to do with clogging the passing lanes. In the rematch we’ll need to probably front Mayer more, because we need to find out if they can throw it over the top. Otherwise don’t see any reasons to think they can be better than they were in Chandler on sat. You know Epley is already thinking about Nolan’s handcuffs, which means we’re inside his head.The problem going forward is Amherst, but first things first, and that is the Maine trip.
    Keene St. even with many of the same guy hasn’t had the chemistry of last year. And with the exception of their ‘L’ at RIC (who has problems scoring the ball) haven’t done much on the road. Their W’s are against teams that are about 4-14 on average. Don’t see Wright and Fazio overcoming Lynch, James and ‘LongJack’ inside. Might also see Churchill in the inside mix. Martin hasn’t been close to his preseason hype and gets Nolan. When you disrupt the triggerman, the whole ‘O’ gets out of whack. At Pepin, focused, with some payback for knocking us out of #1 last time, think it’ll be into double digits down the stretch.

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  5. wrote:

    The problem isn’t the last ten minutes, nor is it most of the types of opponents included in that statistic. It is the last 2-5 minutes, against quality opponents (ie tournament-caliber teams). If Middlebury was anything less than plus 80 in the last ten minutes of those games, that would be a huge, categorically different concern. The concern here is that they can’t finish close games against good opponents, and they have shown it way too many times before for this to be isolated as a single-case aberration.

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  6. wrote:

    Jack and Clubbo,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m going to address this in a post either today or tomorrow, but if you look at the Tufts, Wesleyan and Williams games from this season alone (and I think the trend is a hold-over from last season) Middlebury’s offense has slowed to a near stand-still, while opposing offenses have done the opposite. The Panthers have 2 made field goals in the final 2 minutes of those three games COMBINED. Now of course, there is no period of the game when it is more difficult to score than during the final 2 minutes of the game, but Middlebury’s opponents during that time combined for 6 made field goals and have outscored Middlebury 20-7 over that combined 6 minute period.

    This break down was particularly stark Saturday when Middlebury went the final 4:20 without scoring a point. In close games, even when the Panthers win, they fail to close teams out, letting teams back into the game, and often relying on a final miss (Williams last year, Tufts, Wesleyan this year) rather than pulling away from teams and winning the game at the free throw line. (Though Clubbo you’re certainly right in saying that Middlebury can win games at the free throw line, they just haven’t to date… the Bates game included when the Panthers shot 5 for 7 down the stretch and 7-11 for the game, below even the ’09-’10 shooting averages, albeit in a very small sample).

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  7. wrote:

    Damon- maybe you’re right about the stats in the last two minutes of these 3 games, but disagree on the basis that you’re considering too limited a span in the last two minutes – to establish a trend. True, on the scoring end, but Wesleyan had to make buckets because otherwise they were dead. At tufts Midd was down 9 with 8:44 left, got to the lead opened up 5 with 1:30, and it should’ve stayed there, but James turned it over with :15 left. He immediately redeemed himself with the game ending block on Tufts, to punctuate a terrific performance on ‘D’. His work on Pelleschi wa sa big par tof the reason Midd won. At Wms, no Lynch for the last 1:10 gives us no inside option, easier to defend. And those two were on the road. As was Bates.
    BTW- including the national semi-final ‘L’ to St. Thomas, Midd has only 6L’s in all games since. Every single one of those has been decided on the last possession. All but one (Scranton) have been on the road or on a neutral court. Over that time- 40 and 6, with plenty of close W’s and road W’s, and nescac tourney W’s and ncaa W’s, means we’re not dog food. My point is that we can break down numbers all day, but at crunch time, you’ve got to have guys who can make a couple of plays, and we came up one short at Wms. On the road- which is one of the great equalizers- that happens to other teams all the time. Ask Williams, they got spanked at Amherst last Wed. It just doesn’t happen so much to Midd because of our G.’s and our coaching. Talk soon. Clubbo.
    -talk soon.

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  8. wrote:

    well deserved credit to Nolan T – a great performance against a good player. he will be NESCAC DPOY this year and, honestly, he should have been last year. if last year’s injustice could be corrected, Midd would be in a position to boast the league’s last five DPOYs – (Tim Edwards 2009; Tim Edwards 2010; Andrew Locke 2011; Nolan Thompson 2012 (should have been); and Nolan Thompson 2013 – pretty impressive and not at all coincidental to the program’s recent success

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  9. wrote:

    And Jensen looks like he could be positioning himself for the 2014 title.

    Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

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