Hartford, Conn. – The top-seeded Trinity College Bantams fought off the visiting Colby College Mules, 66-63, in the opening round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Men's Basketball Championship Tournament this afternoon on Ogrodnik Court in Ray Oosting Gymnasium. Trinity improves to 20-5 overall with its seventh victory in a row, reaching the 20-win plateau for the first time since 2007-08, and will host the NESCAC Semifinals and Finals next weekend. Colby's season ends at 13-12 and three consecutive setbacks. In the NESCAC Semifinals next Saturday, Trinity will play No. 6-seeded Wesleyan, which won at Bates today, 66-59, and No. 2-seeded Bowdoin will play No. 5-seeded Amherst. The NESCAC Finals will take place at Trinity on Sunday, March 1. Trinity will be making its second appearance in a row in the NESCAC Semifinals and hosting the event for the third time and the first time since 2002.
Trinity used a 14-1 run, with all 14 points coming from non-starters, to turn a 44-39 deficit with 14:23 remaining in the game into a 53-45 lead and held on to its advantage the rest of the way. Bantam sophomore forward Ed Ogundeko (Brooklyn, N.Y.) ignited the run with bucket inside and scored five of the 14 points. The Bantams led, 60-54, after an Ogundeko jumper from the elbow with 3:12 on the clock, but Colby junior forward Sam Willson (Watertown, Conn.) answered with his fourth three-pointer of the game to cut the Mule deficit in half at the three-minute mark. The teams traded layups and free throws over the next two minutes, before Willson scored inside to make the score, 64-63, in favor of the home team with 52 seconds left to play. The Bantams failed to shoot the ball on their ensuing possession and were called for a violation, but Mule junior guard Luke Westman (Newton, Mass.) missed on a drive with three seconds remaining. Trinity junior guard Andrew Hurd (Windsor, Conn.) sank a pair of free throws, forcing Colby to make a three-pointer to tie, and classmate Shay Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) stole the long inbounds pass to secure the Bantam victory.
Colby came out hot in the first half, taking a 6-1 lead in the first minute on long balls by Willson and junior guard Michael Loginoff San Mateo, Calif.). Trinity took its first lead on a trey by Hurd to make it, 10-8, with just under 14 minutes on the clock but another Willson three-pointer put Colby back ahead where they stayed for nearly the next nine minutes. A trey by Trinity junior guard Jaquann Starks (Hartford, Conn.) tied the game at 25-all with 4:26 left before the break, and it was a back-and-forth affair with a three-pointer by Mule senior guard Shane Rogers (Danbury, Conn.) giving the visitors a 34-33 halftime edge. Westman scored on a fast-break dunk after a Colby steal to open the second stanza and Colby took its 44-39 lead on a drive by junior guard Ryan Jann (Westford, Mass.) before the 14-1 Bantam spurt gave the home team the lead for good.
Starks paced the Trinity offense with 12 points, including 10 in the first half, and added four rebounds and three assists, while Ajayi finished with 10 points, game-high 11 rebounds, two blocks, and three steals. Ogundeko notched all 11 of his points and five of his seven of his boards after the break. Trinity shot 56.5 percent from the floor and outrebounded Colby, 14-to-7, in the second half. Willson led all scorers with 24 points, while Jann totaled 15 points and four rebounds, and Westman registered eight points, seven rebounds, and a game-high eight assists for the Mules. Colby made 21 of its 23 attempts from the foul line and eight of its 18 three-point attempts but shot just 37 percent overall from the floor.