Junior Chris Dende and the home team couldn't find their way around Middlebury's towering big men in the NCAA Sweet 16 round. Campus Times Archives.

The Rochester men’s basketball team fell to Middlebury College 62-51 Friday, March 11 at the Palestra in front of a crowd of nearly 900.  The visiting Panthers, ranked second in the nation, went on to defeat St. Mary’s College in the Elite Eight, earning them a spot in the NCAA semifinals.

The contest was a close one, as the ‘Jackets led Middlebury for the whole first half, though never by more than six points.  Defense was key to Rochester’s early supremacy, as the men held the Panthers to just one three-pointer in the first half, taking a 28-24 lead into the locker room at the break.

Head coach Luke Flockerzi highlighted the way his players kept the Panthers off the scoreboard.

“This was one of the best defensive first halves we played all year,” he said.

But the Panthers packed a tough defense for their trip to Rochester. Middlebury leads the NCAA in blocked shots this season — they have three players over 6’4,” two of whom are 6’8” — and they used that strength and size to turn the tide of the game in an explosive start to the second half.

Middlebury held Rochester to just 30 percent shooting in the second half, and had 14 blocked shots against the Yellow Jackets.  Five points in the opening 90 seconds of the second half gave the visiting team a narrow lead, but it was one Rochester would never regain.

The game remained close for the rest of the second half, with the ‘Jackets tying the score with 15:52 left and later threatening the lead by closing to within four points with 2:51 to go. Main contributors to the effort were sophomore John DiBartolomeo (13 points), junior Nate Novosel (nine points) and senior Mike Labonowski (nine points).

These names, along with others like freshman Nate Vernon and junior Chris Dende, should not look unfamiliar to those who have followed the Yellowjackets throughout a tremendous season.

Though disappointing for the  team and its faithful following, the ‘Jackets’ exit from the NCAA tournament should not be seen as a failure by any means. Not only did the men reach the NCAA tournament — an accomplishment only a small handful of the nation’s teams can boast any year — but they advanced beyond their seed (17) to host a home game.

That being said, it is impossible to assign credit for such an outstanding season to just five players, and every man on the roster deserves congratulations for the national run.  The team is saturated with young talent and drive, and the Rochester community can look forward to continued superb representation in Division III basketball in the years to come.

Hospers is a member of
the class of 2014.

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