Hart hits buzzer-beater to push Conts past Elmira

By Colin Ainsworth '17

Trading baskets, the game came down to the final possession. On a kickout to the corner, sophomore Jack Donnelly’s three-pointer bounced off the back iron, but was rebounded by Matthew Hart ’16, who threw up a miraculous fadeaway from a tight baseline angle to beat Elmira at the buzzer.  Leaving the court, a jubilant Hart recapped the frenetic final play: “I grabbed the rebound, and I knew there was barely any time left, so I just turned around quickly and shot it. I have no idea how it went in, but, hey, we all get lucky sometimes!”

Tuesday’s win was a tale of two halves as the Continentals faced the Soaring Eagles. Hamilton entered the second half up 48-29; however, they were caught off-guard by an energized Elmira team, which repeatedly battled back from double-digit deficits. Spurred by careless Continental turnovers, the Eagles narrowed the lead by shooting 56 percent from the field and nailing eight threes. Ending the second half on a 12-2 run, Elmira tied the game, and after a Continental turnover, were poised to steal the win.  Fortunately, Hamilton survived a chaotic final possession in which the Eagles had multiple chances at victory.  But the Continentals emerged unscathed, setting the scene for the dramatic finish.

The win moved Hamilton to 8-8 overall on the season. At .500 again, the team has upped its intensity.  When asked about “upcoming statement games,” Coach Stockwell said, “Every game in the NESCAC is a statement game.” The crucial point of this season is now, as winter break ends and conference play ramps up.

The Continentals went 3-5 over the break with wins over Alfred State, SUNY Cobleskill and Colby. Unfortunately, three losses in conference extended their NESCAC record to 1-3. They now stand at ninth in the conference, having lost to the first, second and fourth teams in Amherst, Bowdoin and Trinity respectively.

Though the record has disappointed, a handful of players have experienced breakout seasons. When asked about stand-out performances, Coach Stockwell commended several players, highlighting the high-scoring backcourt of Greg Newton ’14 and Hart ’16, who average 11.4 and 20.8 points per game respectively.  On the other side of the ball, Stockwell lauded the collective defensive presence of Matt Dean ’14, Pete Kazickas ’15 and Bradley Gifford ’15, as they have compensated for their lack of height with great effort and discipline.  Furthermore, 6’7” Ajani Santos ’16 has infused the lineup with much-needed size, taking advantage of an expanded role to distinguish himself as a vital defender and rebounder off the bench.

With six NESCAC games remaining, the Continentals understand the urgency of stingy defense.  For much of the season, Hamilton has been a middle-of-the-pack conference defense in terms of points allowed and opponent field goal percentage.  Coach Stockwell stressed this, saying, “We have spent more time than usual on our defensive techniques, concepts and rotations as well as our rebounding. Our statistics in these areas have been lower than what we would like to see. The guys have been working hard in these areas and we hope there will be some improvement in the coming weeks.”

The Continentals, tied with Colby College for the final NESCAC playoff spot, face a critical upcoming stretch.  After a pair of road games against ninth-ranked Williams and SUNY Institute of Technology, Hamilton will play a season-defining three-game homestand against Middlebury, Tufts and Bates.  The latter two contests hold particular importance,  pitting Hamilton against teams they must beat to reach the postseason.


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