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Middlebury headed to Elite Eight

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Middlebury's Jake Wolfin and Nolan Thompson each went 6-10 from three-point range to lead the Panthers to a 73-72 win over Ithaca in an NCAA sweet 16 game before a sold out crowd in Pepin Gym. The Panthers improved to 25-3 on the season and advanced to next weekend's quarterfinal/semifinal round in Salem, Virginia. Middlebury will meet North Central (Ill.) on Friday, March 22nd at 8:00 p.m. The Bombers finish their season with a 21-9 mark

Ithaca opened an early 4-0 lead on consecutive jumpers by Frank Mitchell before Middlebury responded with the first of its season-high 14 made three-pointers. The teams exchanged threes as Eli Maravich hit from long distance before Joey Kizel connected on a three at 15:49, cutting the Bomber lead to 7-6.

Middlebury took the lead on jumper by Wolfin at 15:19, as both teams exchanged minimal leads four times over the next three minutes of action. After a jumper by Ithaca's Jordan Healy tied the game at 18-18, the Panthers went on a 5-0 burst, started by a three from Thompson and a jumper from Kizel, for a 23-18 lead at 9:53. The Bombers responded with a 5-0 answer, highlighted by a Travis Warech traditional three-point play, tying the game at 23-23 with 7:43 in the first half.

Ithaca took its last lead of the first half on a three from Warech, giving the Bombers a 26-25 advantage at 7:02, before Middlebury went on a 7-0 run, ignited by another three from Thompson. The run gave the Panthers their largest lead of the half at 32-26 at the 2:29 mark, before the Bombers countered with an 8-4 burst to close out the half. A three from Maravich with eight seconds left set the score at 36-34 in favor of Middlebury at the break.

With the game tied at 36-36 early in the second half, the Panther went red-hot from behind the arc. Middlebury proceeded to make its next seven shots from three-point range, while missing three from the floor in a 7-10 flurry. When the dust settled, the Panthers held a 57-47 lead with 11:35 remaining. The first three threes during the span were knocked down by Wolfin, while Thompson connected on three of his career-high six during the run.

Ithaca answered with an 8-0 run with a pair of threes from Maravich to make it a 57-55 game with 7:41 left to play. Wolfin came back with a three and a pair of free throws from Peter Lynch to put the Panthers up by five before the Bombers went on a 6-0 spurt to cut the advantage to 62-61, capped by a pair of free throws from Tom Sweeney at the 4:43 mark.

Ithaca took its first lead (68-67) since early in the half when Maravich knocked down a three from the top of the circle after a steal by Travis Warech with 1:56 on the clock.

Following a pair of free throws from Lynch to put the Panthers up 69-68, the Bombers were forced to foul down the stretch. Thompson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 29 seconds remaining, but a huge offensive rebound by Jensen put the team back on the line two seconds later. Jensen knocked down both shots, before Maravich hit a lay-up on the other end of the court to make it a 71-70 game with 19 seconds left.

A missed Panther free throw with 16 seconds remaining gave Ithaca the ball with a chance to take the lead. Frank Mitchell drove to the lane and connected to put the Bombers up 72-71 with nine seconds left. Middlebury quickly inbounded the ball and rushed off the floor, with Kizel getting fouled with 1.8 seconds remaining. Kizel knocked down both free throws to give his team the win, as a desperation 70-foot heave by Warech hit the backboard at the buzzer.

Wolfin and Thompson each netted a game-high 20 points to lead the Panthers. Kizel finished with 13 points and a team best five assists, while Jensen chipped in nine points and five rebounds off the bench. Lynch scored eight points with six boards and five assists.

Four Bombers hit double-digits, led by Warech's 19. Maravich tossed in 17 on 6-9 shooting, and five threes, while Mitchell added 11 and Sean Rossi scored 10 points with seven assists. Warech and Mitchell each collected a game-best nine rebounds as the Bombers out-rebounded Middlebury 36-28, and had a 12-4 advantage on the offensive glass.

Middlebury finished the game shooting 47.9% from the floor, while connecting on 14-25 (.560) from long range. Ithaca made 9-18 threes in the game, while shooting 42.1% from the floor.

Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics

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