It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The storybook season crafted by the Middlebury men's basketball team was supposed to carry the Panthers to Salem, Va., for this weekend’s Division III Final Four.
Middlebury came heartbreakingly close to reaching its destination. But a 79-75 loss to New England Small College Athletic Conference rival Williams in the Elite Eight dashed the Panthers’ dreams and brought to a close the remarkable career of senior Matt St. Amour.
St. Amour, a two-time Vermont high school state player of the year at Mississquoi Valley Union, finished with 1,679 points to sit third on the school’s all time scoring list. He was voted this season’s NESCAC player of the year and his name fills the Panther record book, highlighted by the 655 points he scored this winter, and the 108 3-point shots he sank this year and the 247 he buried in his career.
“Matt is such a gamer and that’s something we saw in high school,” coach Jeff Brown said on the eve of the Williams game. “I think the best case scenario we had when we recruited him is exactly how his career has unfolded.
“He just plays with great passion and with great energy. He has the ability to score in a variety of ways and when a teammate is open, he finds him.”
St. Amour’s vision for what his time at Middlebury would look like turned out to be close to reality.
“These last four years have been really special and exactly what I hoped for,” he said. “I wanted to come here and compete for the national championship and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by great teammates and be lucky enough to be put in position to have success.”
Indeed, St. Amour was far from the only bright light in this year’s Middlebury galaxy. Fellow seniors Jake Brown (the coach’s nephew) and Jack Daly completed the Panthers three-guard, high energy offense that averaged 87 points and 20 assists a game en route to a 27-4 season.
Middlebury became the first school to win back-to-back NESCAC championships and was a fixture on the national scene all year. In his 20 seasons, Coach Brown, a hall of fame player at the University of Vermont in the early 1980s, has made the Panthers a perennial power.
Middlebury has reached the NCAA tournament eight times since 2008 and advanced to the Final Four in 2011 and the Elite Eight in 2013. Brown’s career record of 336-189 is the best in school history.
Now Brown and the Panthers must regroup, knowing that Matt St. Amour and their elite backcourt are luxuries they will no longer enjoy.