The road to the Elite Eight is never an easy one. The Middlebury men's basketball team knows that quite well. They have to drive to Boston to catch a flight, only to drive another three hours; just to get to Salem, Virginia. The veteran Panthers aren't phased though, they've been here before and on this stage, only the strong survive.
"We hear what people say about us not being tough," senior guard Jake Wolfin said. "It doesn't bother us, we prove that everyday in the gym and want to do the same this weekend."
At 25-3 they've certainly proven their grit, including three NCAA tournament wins by a total of six points. The final one, an epic 73-72 last second win over Ithaca in the Sweet 16. Avenging last year's heartbreaking loss to Scranton.
"This team competes until the end," 16th-year coach Jeff Brown said. "I'm confident at the end of a game, we'll be in a position to win the game."
It's a team built on a solid veteran core, including senior tri-captains Jake Wolfin, Peter Lynch and Nolan Thompson and junior Joey Kizel. Four players who were at the Salem Civic Center two years ago, When the Panthers fell to St. Thomas 59-57 in the Final Four.
"To be honest, that's all a blur," senior guard Nolan Thompson said. "We learned a lot during that trip but we have some unfinished business."
If the Panthers win, it sets up a potential epic Final Four matchup Saturday between Middlebury and Amherst their NESCAC rival who they lost to in triple overtime, but first they'll have to beat a Cardinals team that's ranked third in the country at 27-3.
"They made it out of the bracket of death," Wolfin said. "It's going to be a tough game; for both teams."
"It's just amazing to be playing this late in the season," Brown said. "To have the chance to dream of the final four and a shot at the championship in Atlanta is amazing."
In Middlebury, Dylan Scott Channel 3 Sports.
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