WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – No. 5 Williams men's basketball (23–5, 7–3 in the NESCAC) defeated Bridgewater State (18–10, 9–3 in the MASCAC) 56-45 tonight in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After a sluggish start, a strong second half, along with a season-high 10 steals on defense, took the Ephs through to the next round.
"This is a seasoned group now," head coach Kevin App said. "We've proven we can weather those storms when shots aren't going in, and we've proven how reliable our defense is when we're locked in."
In the first half, the Bears employed a combination of man-to-man and zone defenses to keep the Eph offense in check. Bridgewater State limited Williams to 22.6 percent (7-of-31) from the field while keeping NESCAC Player of the Year James Heskett '19 scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting.
"Bridgewater State did a good job changing up defenses to keep us thinking," App said. "In the first half, it seemed like two teams that were a little over-amped up for the NCAA tournament, which is what happens sometimes. Shots that normally go in for both teams weren't."
"They took us out of a rhythm a little bit," Heskett said. "It felt good once one finally went in just kind of get that rhythm back."
After making their first two shots of the game to go up 4-0, Williams missed 10 straight shot attempts, eight of which were 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Bridgewater State went on a 9-0 run to take the lead. Forward Marcos Soto '19, however, ended the drought with a layup and a 3 on consecutive possessions, tying the game at 9.
The first half, which featured six total lead changes, finished 21-20 in Williams' favor. Bridgewater State forward Joseph Carty recorded 10 rebounds in the half.
The Ephs came out of the break with improved ball movement.
"Everyone was touching it," Heskett said. "[We] got layups and open 3s. It got back to simply executing."
"It was getting back to instincts: shooting when you're open, passing when you're not," guard Bobby Casey '19 said. "Just staying simple – we got back to that in the second half, and the shots started to fall."
Williams started the second half on an 11-4 run, taking a 32-24 lead with 14:43 remaining. Bridgewater State trimmed the deficit to five on a tough 3 by Carty, but a Heskett 3 brought the score to 37-27, the Ephs' first double-digit lead. Carty, who at one point had scored his team's last 11 points, brought the deficit back down to five at 9:54.
Up 39-34, Williams then went on a 14-0 run to take a commanding lead. The Ephs scored on six straight trips down the floor while holding the Bears scoreless for over five minutes.
The game finished with a final score of 56-45.
App said the team employed a defensive lineup to seal the victory. The Ephs forced 16 turnovers form the Bears in the game.
"It's interesting at this time of year from a coaching standpoint," he said. "Because of all the ebbs and flows of the season, we've played a lot of different lineups. We ended up tonight going with that more defensive lineup because we trust that group to really buckle down."
Casey provided 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals for Williams. Heskett added 13, all of which came on 4-of-6 shooting in the second half. Carty finished with a dominant 17-point, 14-rebound double-double for Bridgewater State, while guard Rocky DeAndrade scored 11. Carty and DeAndrade each played 39 minutes, while forward Rayshon Ward, who had 8 points and 6 rebounds, played 38.
Bridgewater State shot 17 of 52 (32.7 percent) and 6 of 25 for 3 (24.0 percent), while Williams shot 20 of 52 (38.5 percent) and 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) from behind the arc.
Williams plays Ramapo at 7 p.m. tomorrow in Chandler Gymnasium. Ramapo defeated Moravian 86-61 in the first round.
"[Ramapo] is a good team," App said. "They're a different type of strong defensive team than we've seen throughout the NESCAC tournament, but it should be a good matchup."
"We were waiting all day to play," Casey said. "We came here wanting to get two wins this weekend. We're ready for Ramapo tomorrow, and we'll see what happens."