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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Men's Basketball Begins Season 1-2

Author: Dan Russell Staff Writer

The Middlebury College Men's Basketball team began their season at the Lopata Classic in St. Louis against the sixth ranked team in Division III, Washington University in St. Louis. The Panthers were able to keep stride with the Bears in the first half, holding the lead with eight minutes to go before halftime. The Bears then broke the game open in the second half, however, eventually winning 99-68. It was a promising sign for the Panthers nonetheless, and a clear indication of the work that they need to do in order to compete with teams of that caliber. They then fell to Trinity University (Texas) in the consolation game and entered last Tuesday's game against the College of St. Joseph still looking for their first win. The Panthers struggled in the first half, as St. Joseph's was able to hold them in check with a stifling 3-2 zone defense, forcing Middlebury into a half-court game and cutting down their transition opportunities. Both teams struggled to score, but the Panthers' defense kept them in the game, limiting the Fighting Saints to only 39 percent shooting in the first half. The Panthers entered halftime with a three-point lead.

In the second half, the Panthers made the necessary adjustments and pressed the Saints heavily on offense, as they began getting easy baskets in transition. They were spurred on by David Coratti '04, who, in a memorable play at the very beginning of the half, narrowly saved a ball from going out of bounds and lofted it up court, leading to an easy basket. Coratti had a brilliant all-around game, chipping in ten points, six assists and seven rebounds as well as making both of his three-point attempts. He acted as a catalyst for the team, opening up the floor for the Panthers, who were able to successfully push the ball up the court and score in transition from that point on.

Middlebury's shots also began to fall with more consistency, as they established their inside-outside game, successfully working the ball inside to co-captains Eric Bundonis '03 (10 points, five rebounds) and Chris King '02 (12 points, four rebounds, as well as two blocked shots) down low, forcing the St. Joseph's zone to collapse. This in turn opened up the perimeter for guards John Donnelly '04 (11 points), Koby Altman '04 (16 points) and Coratti, who were a combined 6-of-12 from behind the arc. The Panthers had a very balanced attack, with all five starters scoring in double figures. Eric Skaar '04 was also impressive coming off the bench, scoring nine points on four-of-seven shooting.

The Panthers came together offensively, outscoring St. Joseph's 42-33 in the first half, shooting over 50 percent as a team in the second half, and earning their first win, 75-63.

"We're working hard in practice, and after the actual games everyone starts to feel a little bit more comfortable. Every guy is beginning to understand his role and the team is beginning to gel. After every game we're that much more confident . . . we're being counted out in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), but if we come out and play hard and play smart, we have the potential to surprise a lot of people," Bundonis said. The Panthers now have five starters with valuable game experience and should be better prepared for a grueling schedule, which includes playing five games in the next 10 days. The team will return to Pepin Gymnasium tomorrow to play Hamilton in their first home game.