Hartford, Conn. - The Trinity College men's basketball team, which downed the Colby College Mules, 71-60, in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship Quarterfinals over the weekend, will host the NESCAC Semifinals and Finals on Stan Ogrodnik Court in Ray Oosting Gymnasium as the tournament's top seed for the fourth time and the second year in a row on Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28. The Bantams, coached by James Cosgrove (6th Season), will face the No. 4-seeded Middlebury College Panthers in their semifinal on Saturday at 2 p.m. with No. 2-seeded Amherst and No. 3-seeded Tufts facing off at 4 p.m. The semifinal winners will play in the NESCAC Championship Finals on Sunday, February 28 at noon. The winner of the NESCAC Championship Tournament will determine the league's automatic qualifier for the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. Tickets for the weekend's games are $5 for adults and $2 for students, senior citizens, and children under 12. Trinity students will be admitted at no charge courtesy of the College's athletic department.
Trinity was 7-4 on January 4 before rattling off seven straight wins including five league victories from January 7 to 23. After two losses in four days to close out the month, the Bantams have won five games in a row. Trinity is 2-1 against the other teams competing this weekend with a 88-76 road win against the Jumbos, a 97-86 home victory over the Panthers, and a 89-82 setback to Amherst in its only loss on Ogrodnik Court this winter. Trinity hosted the NESCAC Championship Final Four as the top seed and reached the finals in its first two seasons of existence in 2001 and 2002, won the league tournament in 2008, and has reached the NESCAC Semifinals 10 times. In 2014-15, Trinity downed Colby as the No. 1 seed, 66-63, in the NESCAC Quarterfinals but lost to eventual champion Wesleyan, 55-52, in the semifinal round. The Bantams are currently ranked No. 2 in the NCAA Division III Northeast Region and No. 22 nationally, while Amherst is No. 1 in the region and No. 13 in the nation, and Tufts is No. 3 in the region and No. 18 nationally.
Trinity leads the NESCAC in field-goal percentage defense at .382 (2nd in nation) and rebounding margin at +6.9 (24th in nation), while ranking second in scoring defense at 67.2 ppg and in free throw shooting at .758 (16th in nation). Junior center Ed Ogundeko (Brooklyn, N.Y.) leads the conference and ranks 23rd nationally on the boards with 10.7 per contest, while senior forward Shay Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) is fifth with 7.5 per game. The Bantams are averaging 78.2 ppg and Ajayi leads the squad with 14.1 ppg (12th in NESCAC) followed by Ogundeko with 13.2 ppg (14th in NESCAC). Senior guard Andrew Hurd (Windsor, Conn.) is second among NESCAC leaders with 5.0 assists per contest and ranks sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.43, while Ogundeko and Ajayi are fourth and ninth, respectively, in the league in blocks with 1.4 and 1.0 per game, and Ajayi is also fifth in steals with 1.5 per contest. Senior guard Jaquann Starks (Hartford, Conn.) is third in the league from the foul line with a .871 percentage and 10th from long range at .401 to go with his 12.0 ppg scoring average, while sophomore swingman Eric Gendron (Merrimack, N.H.) ranks fifth in three-point shooting at .441, and Ogundeko is eighth in field-goal percentage at .526.
Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half and added seven rebounds, four steals, and two blocks in the win against Colby as Trinity came back from a 28-19 halftime deficit with 52 points in the second half. Senior captain guard Rick Naylor (Sudbury, Vt.) and Starks both joined Ajayi as second-half, double-digit scorers, as Starks finished with 13 points and six assists and Naylor scored all 10 of his points after intermission. Ogundeko contributed 10 points and a game-high 11 boards, while Hurd dished five assists. Ajayi was honored as the NESCAC Co-Player of the Week for his fine performance against the Mules.
Middlebury, coached by Jeff Brown, is 15-10 overall and finished 6-4 in the NESCAC to earn the No. 4 seed in the league tourney. The Panthers got off to a rocky 3-5 start, but responded by going 11-3 before falling to Trinity and Amherst at the end of the regular season. The Panthers got off to a rocky 3-5 start, but responded by going 11-3 before falling to Trinity and Amherst at the end of the regular season. Middlebury, which returns to the conference championship one year after failing to make the tournament, won conference titles in 2009 and 2011. Trinity and Middlebury have split two NESCAC Tournament games, as the Bantams won, 72-63, in the league semifinals and the Panthers won, 56-52, in the 2010 quarterfinals.