By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — Coach Jeff Brown’s Middlebury College men’s basketball team will host at least one NCAA Division III tournament game after winning the NESCAC playoff championship this past Sunday.
On Saturday at 7 p.m., the 24-3 Panthers will entertain the winner of a Thursday game between 20-6 Bridgewater State (Mass.) and 21-7 St. Joseph’s (Maine), to be played at Bridgewater State.
The Panthers were one of four teams given a first-round bye by the NCAA selection committee. They could host a sectional tournament on the weekend of March 13 and 14, assuming they preserve this season’s undefeated record at home for one more game with a win this Saturday.
College officials said travel concerns factor into where sectionals are held as well as rankings. And geography may favor Middlebury: The other teams seeded to advance to the sectional with the Panthers are Rhode Island College, Richard Stockton (a New Jersey school), and St. Lawrence of Canton, N.Y.
Tickets for this Saturday’s game are $6 for adults and $3 for students. They may be purchased in by calling 443-6433 or by stopping by the college’s central campus box office in the McCullough Student Center during regular business hours, on Thursday or Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Panthers this past Saturday defeated Amherst in the NESCAC final, 77-68, after knocking off Bowdoin in the semifinal, also in Pepin Gymnasium, 76-46. The week before they defeated Connecticut College in a quarterfinal, 78-62.
Their 24 wins set a new program record, eclipsing the previous mark of 19, set a year ago, when the Panthers made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Entering the NESCAC tournament, Middlebury led the nation in blocked shots per game and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
For his efforts in the league final four, Panther senior Ben Rudin was named the NESCAC Player of the Week for the third time this season. Rudin averaged 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the final and semifinal, including a career-high 30 points vs. Bowdoin and 18 points and nine rebounds vs. Amherst. Counting his 29 points in the quarterfinal, Rudin set a NESCAC tournament record for total points with 77.