Men’s Basketball falls to top-seeded Trinity in finale

The Colby men’s basketball team gave it everything they had last Saturday, coming agonizingly close to upsetting the top-seeded Trinity Bantams in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs on Saturday. The visiting Mules led for long stretches of the game and were unlucky to fall 66-63 in a back-and-forth contest. Colby ends the season at 13-12, while Trinity will host the NESCAC semifinals and finals next week.

The Mules had the ball, down 64-63 with 10 seconds remaining, but could not convert on a layup in the closing seconds. Colby had gotten out to a fast start, quieting Oosting Gymnasium by going up 6-1 in the opening minute. The Mules then employed a full court press for parts of the half, which succeeded in slowing down Trinity’s offense. The Mules stretched their lead to seven points midway through the first half, led by forward Sam Willson ’16 and guard Luke Westman ’16. Willson scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the first half while Westman did a bit of everything, recording eight points, eight rebounds and seven assists. But the Bantams would tie the game at 27 with 4:04 left in the half as Jaquann Starks rattled off eight straight points for the home team. The teams traded baskets until Colby guard Shane Rogers ’15 nailed a three to give the Mules a 34-33 lead at the break.

Colby was the better team again at the start of the second half. Junior Ryan Jann sat on the bench for much of the first half in foul trouble but made his presence felt by scoring seven of his 15 points in a minute and a half to put the Mules ahead 44-39 with 14:23 to go. It was here that Trinity finally figured out the Mules’ defense and went on a 14-1 run to make it 53-45 with just over nine minutes left. Colby remained calm and shot 84 percent from the free throw line in the second half to claw its way back into the game. Willson made six of seven from the line including two with 3:46 on the clock to draw the Mules within four.

Jann made a layup and two free throws to make it 62-61 Trinity with under two minutes to go. Trinity came back down and made two free throws of their own before Jann found Willson for a layup to stay within a point, 64-63. The Mules went back into their full court press and their stifling defense forced the Bantams into a shot clock violation. The Mules quickly called a timeout with 10 seconds to go to allow Coach Damien Strahorn to draw up one final play.

The Mules inbounded from half court and set a series of screens to get the ball to Westman at the top of the key. He dribbled right and turned the corner around his defender, who appeared to foul Westman as he attempted his layup. There was no call and the ball went off the glass and into Trinity hands. Colby fouled immediately and the Bantams made both resulting free throws. The Mules’ desperate attempt at a full court heave with two seconds to go was picked off, sending the home crowd into celebration.

Despite a disappointing end, the team can look back on a good season that included wins over Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Connecticut College, Hamilton and Middlebury. With the core of Westman, Jann, Willson and the injured Chris Hudnut ’16 all returning for their final season next year, the future is bright for Colby basketball.

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