MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – The fourth-seeded Wesleyan University men's basketball team advanced to the NESCAC Semifinals following an impressive second half rally led by Jordan Sears '18 and Kevin O'Brien '19 as the Cardinals defeated fifth-seeded Middlebury College, 73-65, on Saturday afternoon in a packed Silloway Gymnasium.
Wesleyan—ranked No. 17 in the national polls—tied a single-season program record with its 20th win as it improved to 20-5 overall (the Cardinals went 20-6 during the 2011-12 campaign). The Panthers dropped their third-straight game and are now 19-6 on the season.
Sears was a force defensively in the second half and proved to be the difference maker as he finished the game with a career-high eight blocks including four in the final 2:42 of play. O'Brien led the team in the second half on the offensive side, scoring 15 of his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
FIRST HALF HIGHLIGHTS:
- The first half featured some thrilling back-and-forth action with the largest margin just six points.
- Wesleyan never held a lead in the first 20 minutes of action but tied the game four times.
- A jumper by Jordan Bonner '19 with 9:47 remaining evened the score at 12-12 but the Panthers responded with a 6-0 run capped off by a basket from Adisa Majors.
- The lead was short-lived as Bonner and Austin Hutcherson '21 hit back-to-back three-pointers, respectively, just 29 seconds apart to tie the game at 18-18 with 6:29 on the clock.
- Matt Folger hit one from downtown at the 1:21 mark to increase the visitors lead to 32-28.
- Neither team would score the rest of the way as the Panthers claimed the halftime advantage.
SECOND HALF HIGHLIGHTS:
- Wesleyan came out strong to start the second half with an 8-0 run in just 1:11 as O'Brien contributed five points including a three-point play on the first possession.
- Trailing by one with 12:04 to play, Middlebury scored seven unanswered as a pair of free throws by Griffin Kornaker put the visitors on top, 48-42.
- With 4:38 remaining, Hutcherson converted a three-point play to give the Cardinals a 56-54 advantage, and they would lead the rest of the way.
- After a pair of baskets by JR Bascom '18 in the paint, a massive block by Sears led to a fast break lay-up by O'Brien to give Wesleyan a 64-57 lead with 2:37 to play.
- The Cardinals increased its lead to eight with 00:50 on the clock and hit 9-of-12 free throws in the final 1:22 of action to help seal the win.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Bonner led the Cardinals with 18 points on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the foul line. O'Brien finished with 17, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals. In addition to his eight blocks, Sears also scored six points off the bench and grabbed five boards, while Antone Walker '21 scored 11 points on 3-of-3 shooting from deep.
- Daly led all players with 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting including six assists. He was joined in double-figures by Folger who scored 17, grabbed six boards and recorded four steals.
- The Cardinals' stingy defense held one of the top offenses in the NESCAC to just 65 points on 35.4-percent shooting (23-65) including a 22.2-percent clip from downtown (4-18). Entering today's game, Middlebury averaged 81.3 points per game.
- Wesleyan was terrific from the charity stripe, hitting 20-of-24 attempts.
- Wesleyan returns to the NESCAC Semifinals for the fifth time overall and the first time since the 2014-15 season and will play at top-seeded Amherst College next Saturday, Feb. 24 with a time to be announced.
- The Cardinals defeated the Mammoths twice this season including a 70-66 victory at LeFrak Gymnasium on Jan. 13.