Junior Jerome Cunningham blocked the potential go-ahead basket with 28 seconds remaining to lift the Nichols College men's basketball team to a 74-71 win over Middlebury College in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening at Esbjornson Gymnasium on the campus of Rowan University.
Cunningham finished with 10 points, 10 boards, and four blocks – the last of which put him atop the all-time leaderboard at Nichols with 154 – and sent the Bison to the second round for the second time in three years. Sophomore Matt Morrow made all six of his second-half free throws (7-of-8 overall) and finished with 17 points as the No. 14-ranked Bison (26-2) established a program-record for wins in a season.
Senior and Jostens Trophy finalist Marcos Echevarria finished with a game-high 24 points to move into 20th place on the all-time Division III scoring list with 2,464 points. He also collected six rebounds, four dimes and four steals while junior DeAnte Bruton filled the stat sheet with 22 points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Both played all 40 minutes.
Echevarria canned four triples in the opening eight minutes as the Bison jumped out to a 22-17 lead. The Panthers responded with an 11-0 run to take a 30-22 lead behind six points from Eric McCord. The lead grew to 10 following a triple from Will Ingram before a 7-0 Bison run – sparked by back-to-back layups from Morrow – brought them to within three (33-30). Middlebury eventually settled into a 10-point halftime lead (43-33) as it shot 48 percent from the field. Echevarria led all student-athletes with 16 points (4-of-8 three-pointers) while McCord's 10 points paced the Panthers.
Nichols opened the second half on a 12-0 run behind seven points from Bruton to grab a 45-43 lead. A basket from Echevarria stretched the lead to four (49-45) before the visitors moved in front by five at 62-57 midway through the half behind three-pointers from Matt Folger and Joey Leighton.
With less than three minutes remaining, Morrow knocked down a pair of free throws to put Nichols back in front by one at 68-67. The Bison then extended their lead to three when Bruton made a layup with 1:54 on the clock. Later, holding a one-point lead with 28 seconds on the clock, Jack Farrell's layup was swatted by Cunningham and Echevarria secured the rebound. He then sank two free throws at the other end of the floor to make it 74-71, and a steal by Bruton on the final Middlebury possession secured the win.
Folger finished the game with 15 points and 15 boards while McCord tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Panthers (18-8) outrebounded the Bison 49-36 but were held to just 36 percent shooting in the second half. The Bison, meanwhile, rattled home 19-of-21 free throws in the second half (25-of-29 overall; 86 percent).
Three things you need to know...
-This evening's contest marked the fifth all-time meeting between Nichols College and Middlebury College and the first since 1979. The Panthers lead the series, 3-2, but have dropped the last two.
-Tonight's win was the 100th in the careers of both Echevaria and senior Ariff McLaren.
-Echevarria extended his NCAA record of games with at least one three-pointer to 102. He now has 467 career three-pointers, which is three shy of third-place on the all-time list.
"Middlebury is a very talented team that is very well coached. We didn't come out with an edge and they beat us to 50/50 balls in the first half. Our bigs really came alive in the paint in the second half. They had a lot of energy and did a great job rebounding and defending. Our guys really competed, which is what we've done all year. We came out with that edge in the second half." –Nichols head coach Scott Faucher
"The second half was all about energy. We preached that in the locker room. Once we did that, we picked it up on defense and that helped us find our game. I couldn't be happier for my guys." –Nichols senior Marcos Echevarria
Saturday, March 2 vs Rowan, 7:00 p.m.