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Williamstown, Mass. - Mitchell College attempted to defy long odds Friday night.
For awhile, the Mariners remained within striking distance in their first NCAA Division III tournament game.
Eventually, Williams College proved to be too tough and talented, ending Mitchell's season, 81-66, at Chandler Gymnasium.
"It hurts," coach Todd Peretz said. "But you can build on it and take things away. We played hard. Our margin of error against a team like this is very, very small. Quite frankly, we'd have to play the perfect game."
The athletic and dynamic duo of Joshua Ford, the two-time New England Collegiate Conference Player of the Year, and Parris Hill kept the Mariners (19-8) close for most of the game but they needed more help to pull off the comeback.
Matchup nightmares all game, Hill and Ford continually attacked inside. Hill scored a game-high 31 points and had 14 rebounds while Ford added 18 points and a team-best 15 rebounds. No one else scored more than five points for the Mariners.
The Ephs (24-4) used a decisive height advantage to gradually build a double-digit and secure the victory. Michael Mayer, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center, dominated inside, scoring 15 of his 25 points in the second half. He also had 15 rebounds.
But the determined Mariners ended up with the rebounding advantage, 43-38.
"We played tough," Peretz said. "Going into a game like this, we knew their size was going to be a problem and I think that showed."
Entering this postseason, no NECC team had ever won an NCAA tournament game. In the last two years, both representatives lost by over 25 points.
Plus, Mitchell doesn't face a team of Williams' caliber in the NECC. "It was a challenge for us, because we're not used to that in our conference, having all five guys that can score," Ford said.
To their credit, the Mariners did a decent job handling the unfamiliar situation. They fell behind early but rallied to tie the score three different times. Frank Martin's steal and layup knotted the game at 18-18 with 11:06 left.
With Williams having trouble defending Ford and Hill, it switched to a zone defense. The move slowed down the Mariners. Hill and Ford drew a crowd every time they touched the ball.
"They're so long," Peretz said. "That made it difficult."
Still, Mitchell only trailed 41-35 at halftime. The Mariners were not intimidated by playing on the road before a big crowd.
"Nobody was nervous," Ford said. "We just wanted to come out and represent our school."
Hill added: "It was fun. … We were just relaxed."
But the fact that the Mariners struggled to score from the perimiter, missing all seven 3-point attempts in the first half, hurt. They continued to misfire in the second half, converting just 28 percent after intermission and 37.5 overall.
The Ephs eventually wore down the Mariners inside. Mayer scored to push the lead to 54-42 with 16:31 remaining. The Ephs gradually extended the lead to a comfortable margin. Both coaches removed their starters with just over a minute left.
After the game, the Mariners were already looking forward to next year. Both Ford and Hill will return.
The loss ended Mitchell's most successful Division III season. The Mariners won their first New England Collegiate Conference championship to earn an automatic bid.
"Where we were three or four years ago until now, we've improved so much," Peretz said. "We're starting to be recognized as being a pretty good program. Obviously, we're not quite as the level as a Williams … But it's been tremendous to see the growth of these guys as players."