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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Men's Hoops Loses Focus After Amherst Upset

Author: Dan Russel

The Panthers began league play on Friday, Jan. 18 as it opened up their New England Small College Athetic Conference (NESCAC) season against Trinity College. Trinity (10-2) made four three-pointers and shot over 50 percent in the first half as Middlebury fell behind 17-4 in the opening minutes of the game. Once again, the men showed themselves to be a remarkably resilient team, cutting the Bantams' lead to six, 33-27, at halftime. Trinity continued its offensive onslaught in the second half, however, making 6-8 three-point shots and shooting 63 percent as a team, at one point leading by as many as 21. Middlebury once again battled back, led by fine performances from former high school teammates, captain Eric Bundonis '03 (15 points) and Michael Salek '05 (10 points). Nate Anderson '04 (7 points, 8 rebounds) and Adam Sinoway '05 (9 points, 6 offensive rebounds) also proved instrumental in helping the Panthers get back into the game, as it cut Trinity's lead to within four. It would get no closer however, as Trinity eventually pulled away 79-65.

The team then faced what appeared to be an even more daunting challenge against Amherst College, then the 14th ranked team in Division III, which had just suffered an embarrassing 29 point loss to conference rival Williams College. The Panthers, however, came out to a roaring start and pushed the ball from the very beginning, going on a 12-2 run and leading at one point by as many as 21, spurred on by a burst of three point shooting (6-12 in the first half) and shooting over 50 percent for the game, cruising into halftime with a 41-22 advantage. Amherst finally regained their bearings in the second half, and cut the score to within four with 11:04 remaining. They would get no closer, however, as Middlebury made a number of key defensive stops spurred on by a crippling late-game block by Bundonis. Middlebury then went on an 8-0 run and maintained a five point advantage the rest of the way. The team was led by balanced scoring and individual contributions from everyone in uniform in what was undoubtedly their best game this season and their greatest accomplishment as a team. The team was led by the superb play of Bundonis (20 points, 5-7 from behind the three point arc), Nate Anderson '04 (13 points, five rebounds and four assists), point guard Koby Altman '04 (10 points, four assists) and first-years Salek and Steve Sinoway, both with eight. It was a dominant performance by the young Panthers, handing a stunned Amherst team their second consecutive loss 76-69.

The team then traveled Brandeis University, and in a game marred by poor shooting and a sluggish play, Brandeis was able to grind down the tempo of the game, limiting Middlebury's transition opportunities. The Panthers guarded a 24-22 lead going into halftime. In the second-half Middlebury was able to open up the floor and led by as many as 11 at one point. The team was led once again by the stellar play of forwards Bundonis (20 points, 7 rebounds, as well as 4-9 from behind the arc) and Anderson (17 points, six rebounds, 2-3 from behind the arc).

Brandeis gradually crept back into the game, tying it at 54 on a pair of free throws with 2:02 left in the game. With Brandeis ahead 60-54, Anderson hit a clutch three-pointer to cut the lead once again to three. Brandeis managed to convert three more free throws, and although Middlebury showed poise and determination hitting another three, this time by Altman, they would never get any closer, as their last two three-point attempts went wide, handing Brandeis the victory 63-60.

The Panthers' road trip continued as they traveled to Maine to play Bowdoin College last Friday and then Colby College on Saturday. Against Bowdoin, they once again were forced to recover from an early lead as Bowdoin made 10 of their first 12 shots and took an early 24-9 lead, and held a 42-25 advantage going into halftime.

Middlebury's shooting improved dramatically in the second half, however, as they made six of their 12 three-point attempts and went on a 14-3 tear as Anderson once again came up with a crucial three pointer to get the Panthers within four. The team managed to get as close as three on a layup by Altman with only 17 seconds remaining. On the next possession, Bowdoin scored on a fast-break layup with 12 seconds remaining, destroying the Panthers' momentum, with Bowdoin eventually winning 76- 71.

Against the White Mules of Colby College, Middlebury led by two going into the half, and the score remained close throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half. Colby scored on four consecutive possessions, taking a 60-51 lead. Middlebury promptly answered as Salek, David Coratti '04 and Sinoway hit consecutive shots from the outside, bringing Middlebury to within three, 70-67. Colby then took control of the game, holding the Panthers scoreless and running off a string of nine straight points over the course of the next few minutes, eventually winning 82-74.

The tandem of Bundonis and Salek scored a combined 40 points, while Adam Sinoway chipped in with 12. With the loss the Panthers' fall to 8-10 overall and 1-4 in the NESCAC. Despite their valiant efforts over the course of the past week, they returned home from Maine with a sense of intense disappointment and frustration

"We're young, but we've gotta get it done. There's a great sense of urgency to win," says Bundonis. "We were competitive in every game and we didn't even feel like we played that well. This weekend will be a real test to see what this team is made of. We need to jump out on these next two teams[Connecticut College and Wesleyan University]. We've gotta make the playoffs."

On Tuesday night, the Panthers improved their record with an 84-77 home victory against Colby-Sawyer College. The win boosts Middlebury's record to 9-10 with four games left to play.