LEWISTON, Maine -- No. 2 nationally ranked Middlebury remained undefeated, but not without a tough fight from host Bates in both teams' NESCAC opener on Friday night at Alumni Gym, a 59-56 win for the Panthers.
Joey Kizel had game highs of 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals to lead the Panthers (10-0, 1-0 NESCAC). Nolan Thompson and Jake Wolfin contributed 13 and 12 points apiece, with Thompson adding six boards and three assists.
Sophomore Graham Safford (Hampden, Maine) led Bates (5-8, 0-1) with 14 points, including 11 in the second half as the Bobcats stayed within at least six points of their rivals for the entire game. First-year Mike Boornazian (Portland, Conn.) added 12 points.
Bates outrebounded Middlebury 42-24, allowing the Panthers only three offensive boards all game.
Thompson personally outscored Bates 8-3 over a four-minute stretch midway through the second half, including a 3-pointer that erased a 34-34 tie at the 11:42 mark and another at 9:49 that put the Panthers ahead 40-35.
Back-to-back buckets by Bates junior Luke Matarazzo (Shelton, Conn.) and Safford cut it to 40-39, and senior Ed Bogdanovich (Portland, Maine) made a baseline jumper to narrow it to 42-41 with 7:41 to go. Lynch fed James Jensen for a layup, however, and Jake Wolfin assisted a three by Nate Bulluck that prompted a Bates timeout, with the Bobcats trailing 47-41 with 6:43 to play.
Safford made a three from the corner with 2:52 to play to cut it to one for a final time at 49-48. Kizel set up Wolfin for a crucial three, then answered a hard-driving layup by Safford with a 15-foot jumper to make it 54-50 with 1:15 to go. Kizel and Wolfin both made pairs of free throws for a 58-52 Middlebury lead, but Safford fed Brust for a layup with 19 seconds to go.
Bates fouled Wolfin, who missed the front end of a one and one, then Safford drove hard once again with eight seconds to go to make it 58-56. Kizel was fouled with 5.9 seconds left and left the door open for Bates by missing his first free throw. Matarazzo was forced into a desperate three-point buzzer-beater attempt from the corner, and the ball sailed over the rim to ensure Middlebury's victory.
Boornazian made a pair of twos and a pair of threes to lead Bates with 10 points in the first half, while senior Mark Brust (Duxbury, Mass.), Bogdanovich and sophomore Billy Selmon (Atlanta, Ga.) had four boards apiece to propel the Bobcats to a 21-11 rebounding advantage. Kizel kept Middlebury going in the period with 10 points, two assists and two steals.