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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Men’s basketball falls to Tufts University in NESCAC Tournament

David Brennan ’24.5 averaged 8.0 points per game this season, an improvement from his performance last season.
David Brennan ’24.5 averaged 8.0 points per game this season, an improvement from his performance last season.

It was a year of growth for the Middlebury men’s basketball team. After a stellar 2022-23 campaign which saw them advance to the second round of the national tournament, the team endured a dip in form as they bowed out to Tufts University in the first round of NESCAC play this year. Despite matching the Jumbos for much of the first half, the Panthers had no response as their opponents pulled away in the second to take the victory 66-44.

Going into this season, the team hoped to replicate last year’s success, where they boasted a strong 19–4 regular season record and advanced to the league semifinals. But losing last year’s Alex Sobel ’23, named National Player of the Year by, proved to affect the team more than anticipated. Middlebury lost their first four games of the season, several of which were agonizingly close, and Head Coach Jeff Brown said those games left team morale at an all-time low.

“No player in our program ever lost four games in a row, and they were really questioning things,” Brown said in an interview with The Campus.

A week after their fourth loss of the season, the Panthers rebounded with wins against Endicott College (90–86) and New England College (80–70). Despite these successes, Brown expressed that the team continued to face difficulties.

“We really had a challenging schedule and we played in twelve games against ranked opponents this year and unfortunately we finished 2–10,” Brown said.

In a rare year where Middlebury did not qualify for the NCAA DIII men's basketball championship, Brown still deems this season a success. Faced with a number of injuries, the team may not have put together a winning record, but they developed some key players such as Tristan Joseph ’26 who will undoubtedly be a major assets next season. 

“Sam Stevens, who has started most games in his career here, missed about half of the games this year because of injuries,” Brown said. “Jackson McKersie  and Edward Witherington  both missed ten or eleven games throughout the course of the season, so that really kind of shifted some opportunities for some other guys like Tristan to emerge into the starting line.”

In the 2022-23 season, Joseph played in just one game for three minutes. This year, he played in 25 games, started in 18 and was the second-highest scorer on the team.

Joseph was not alone in his improvement. David Brennan ’24.5 was another Panther who saw improvement over last year’s already strong performance, winning NESCAC Player of the Week for the first time and improving in almost every category on his stats sheet, including rebounds, blocks and points scored.

Brown also expressed great joy seeing Noah Osher ’23.5 flourish this season. In his freshman campaign, Osher scored just nine points. Three years later, he has eclipsed 1,000 career points, ending his time with the Panthers as the fourteenth highest scorer in all of Middlebury men’s basketball history with 1,166 career points.

“[Osher’s] emergence as a player has really been special to watch,” Brown said. [I’m] just a big fan of his: a top-notch student-athlete here on campus.”

With both Osher and Sobel now graduated, the Panthers will once again look to rebuild next season. While their presence will certainly be missed, the Panthers have an abundance of emerging talent on their roster and could be poised to have another breakout star next year.