CLINTON — The nationally ranked No. 10 Hamilton College men's basketball season came to a close on Friday, March 8 after dropping the third round of the NCAA Division III Basketball Championship to visiting Christopher Newport University 75-67 in the sectional semifinal at the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House.
The Continentals finished their season 25-5 after advancing to the third round of the championship for the second year in a row and the sixth time in program history.
No. 9 Christopher Newport defeated No. 19 Williams College in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 10 at Hamilton College to advance to the Final Four. Williams College was an 84-81 winner over No. 2 Whitman College on Friday, March 9.
Hamilton senior guard-forward Peter Hoffman poured in 19 points to lead the way. Junior guard Kena Gilmour added 11 points, while senior guard Tim Doyle chipped in 11 points of his own along with five assists. Senior Andrew Groll came one point and one rebound away from posting a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
Senior Marcus Carter and sophomore Jason Aiger racked up 18 points respectively to pace the Captains. Junior Cutch Ellis posted a double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds as part of a 54-35 advantage off the glass against the Continentals.
Strong defense by both teams held the score to single digits for nearly eight minutes of the first period when a CNU layup by junior Savonte Chappell made it 10-8 at the 12:32 mark. The clock ran down to 8:51 before a Peter Hoffman layup would tie the game at 10-all. Hamilton took the lead 14 seconds later when off-the-bench freshman guard Nick Osarenren went downtown with a three-point jumper, off an assit from Doyle, to put the Continentals up 13-10. Hamilton would give up just one more basket to CNU before going on a 12-2 run, capped by a Michael Grassy threee-point swish putting them up by eight, 20-12 with 4:29 left to play in the first period.
The Continentals held the the Captains to 25.9 percent shooting from the floor in the first half taking a 12-point cushion into the locker room at halftime, 32-20.
Hamilton senior forward Andrew Groll came out fired up in the opening moments of the second half with a three-pointer just 30 seconds in and a monster dunk, off an assist from Hoffman giving Hamilton a 13-point and their largest lead of the game 37-24.
But the Captains would not be denied due to a freshman that CNU senior Marcus Carter said stood up in the locker room at halftime and decided he was going to take leadership of his team.
"Our freshman, Elijah Bowens, today he made a really great stride at being a leader," Carter said. "Coach "K” (John Krikorian) has put it in to us whether your a senior, or a freshman you can lead this team, and Elijah Bowens, he got into us and he challenged us. This is a guy who has had bumpy roads all season long and to do what he did is true character. We take pride in brotherhood and the way he talked to us, his tone of voice and what he said to us really got us going."
Getting going on this night for the Captains put them on a 26-6 run in the second half that led to a 53-47 comeback lead at the 9:57 mark. The Continentals clawed back to regain the lead after a 12-3 run of their own capped off by 10-foot jumper edging CNU 52-50 at 7:15 to play in the game. The lead changed twice more, 53-52 with two made free throws by CNU sophomore Jason Angiers, after being fouled by Hamilton sophomore Spencer Kendall, and Doyle hit a rim and in from beyond the arc to put Hamilton back out in front 55-53 at the 6:04 mark.
An offensive rebound, off a missed Carter layup, for Ellis and a subsequent two-point layup of his own tied the game 55-all at 5:31. Hamilton would not see the lead again after a go ahead layup from CNU sophomore Adrian Beasley put the Captains ahead 57-55 with just over five minutes to play.
CNU went 26-of-66 from the field on the night, including 7-of-12 in the closing minutes of the game. The Captains additionally going 6-for-9 at the charity stripe in the last minute of play put the game out of reach for Hamilton ending its season before an applauding and appreciative sold out crowd for a great season.
Hamilton head coach Adam Stockwell said he believed his team's first half defensive effort was executed as well as any time he's ever seen it, holding CNU to 20 points and 25 percent shooting from the floor.
"First half, I thought we really did a great job," Stockwell said. " We were strong at the rim, contested a lot of shots, gave us a chance to get in transition a little bit. Once we got going in transition we got a chance to score a little freer and easier than what we do in the half-court sometimes. But the first half I think the guys played as well as we've played on the defensive end. Offensively, we missed a few things, but we put ourselves in a good position going into the second half for a positive result."
Stockwell's message to the team, up 12 at halftime, was simple and direct.
"This half is going to be the hardest half we've had all year," he said. "We knew they were going to come back, their too good of a team, too experienced, won too many games, too tough defensively not to make a run and comeback and we had to weather that. Obviously, the result at the end, we didn't weather it early in the (second) half and that kind of cost us a little bit, cost us some of our momentum and our feeling good about what we were doing, and they are a great team. Their guys stepped up, made a lot of great plays at the end, and every time we got close we just couldn't get that one more stop to get really more than a possession lead. and you know, this time of year team's aren't going to beat themselves, so we knew we had to battle, and Christopher Newport we tip our hat to them cause they were a little tougher than we were and finished the game off better than we did."
Hoffman said he was so appreciate to have had this opportunity. Twenty-five wins this year, making it to the Sweet 16 two years in a row, NESCAC championship final for the first time in program history, Hoffman described it as unreal.
" I can't thank our fans enough," Hoffman said. "Being here three weekends in a row has been awesome. The place has been rocking. It's disappointing we can't come away with any hardware (trophy) again this year, it's really frustrating right now, but just going forward I hope these guys come away with something, because I think we've built something pretty special here so that's what I'd like to see."
Stockwell more than agreed and was thankful to his team for their effort and commitment over the past two years..
" The seniors have been awesome,” Stockwell said. "The two-year run here has been fantastic, we've had tremendous senior leadership both years, guys who really put team first more anything else. The guys are all disappointed now, because certainly you want more, but to have 49 wins over two years, the most wins in any two-year period in the history of the college for men's basketball I think that's pretty impressive, speaks for itself, get to the Sweet 16 two years in a row and have great games, be competitive in both those games and have real chances to possibly move on if you finish things off. I think we put ourselves in a good spot and the credit goes to these guys. The seniors have been great all four years, very productive. But what they've done the past two years, even more so is they've been awesome teammates, awesome leaders allowing the team to continue to grow and the culture to build. We can't thank these guys enough."
And his team we're not the only people Stockwell was grateful for.
"Obviously the support we've had from the community and fans has been just fantastic," Stockwell said. "These past few weekends this place was as loud as it could be and it was great to have everybody there. And like Pete said we would have loved to give them one more night tomorrow, but unfortunately we didn't and time to get back to the grind here and we are going to miss these seniors (Hoffman, Groll, Doyle and Grassy) a ton."