Hartford, Conn. – The visiting Middlebury College Panthers opened up a 19-point lead in the second half and held on for a 53-45 victory over the Trinity College Bantams in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) men's basketball action this evening on Ogrodnik Court in Oosting Gymnasium. Trinity, losing for the first time in four games, closes the regular season with a 14-10 record overall and a 5-5 mark in the NESCAC, while the Panthers improve to 16-7 overall and 6-3 in the league with a game left on Sunday at Amherst. Trinity has qualified for the NESCAC Championship Tournament for the 12th time and the first time since 2010-11 and will play a quarterfinal game at either Bowdoin or Middlebury next Saturday.
Trinity led for the only time in the game 3:35 into the contest after a jumper by sophomore guard Jaquann Starks (Hartford, Conn.), but the Panthers scored the next six points to go ahead, 9-4, at the 13:48 mark. Middlebury used a 10-2 run to close the half, including five points by senior captain guard Joey Kizel (Short Hills, N.J.), to lead, 28-17, at the break. Trinity shot 22.6 percent from the field, missed all five of its three-point attempts, and 42.9 percent from the foul line, but outrebounded Middlebury, 24-18, over the first 20 minutes.
Scoring the first eight points of the second half, Middlebury took its largest lead, 36-17, with 16:28 left to play on two Kizel free throws. Trinity scored eight in a row to pull within 11 on a dunk by junior forward Alex Conaway (New Haven, Conn.) with 12:19 on the clock, and got within single digits at 44-35 on a three-pointer from the right wing by sophomore forward Shay Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) at the 8:06 mark. Kizel made a trey from the left wing off an inbounds play under his own basket for a 51-29 Middlebury lead with 3:41 remaining, but a jumper by Starks and layup by Ajayi made the score, 51-43, with just over a minute on the clock. Trinity junior guard Hart Gliedman (New York, N.Y.) stole the ensuing inbounds pass, as the Bantams were in a full-court press, and drilled a pair of free throws after being fouled on a drive. Middlebury senior forward James Jensen (White Plains, N.Y.) missed two free throws, and Starks got an open look from long range with 31 seconds left from the left wing that rimmed out, before Jensen sank his next two from the foul line to put the game out of reach.
Conaway paced Trinity in scoring with 10 points and added five rebounds, while Ajayi totaled a team-high nine boards, first-year forward Ed Ogundeko (Brooklyn, N.Y.) contributed eight points, six boards, and two blocked shots, and Staks added eight points and four assists. Trinity finished 18-for-61 from the field (29.5%), 1-for-9 from three-point range, and 8-for-16 from the foul line (50 percent), while Middlebury was slightly better with a 33.3 field-goal and three-point field goal percentage, and a 59.1 free throw percentage. Kizel had game-highs of 15 points and 12 rebounds to go with four assists, while Panther junior forward Hunter Merryman (San Marino, Calif.) added 12 points and five boards.