After earning two of the most thrilling victories in the program’s recent history to close out the regular season last week, the men’s basketball team seemed primed to play their best basketball to open the postseason.
While last year’s team posted an outstanding 25–4 record, they fell twice to both Middlebury and Williams; these conference losses left the Jeffs ready for vengeance this year.
The recent last-second triumphs over these very same archrivals, then, were exactly the injection of confidence that Amherst needed to reverse their postseason woes of last season. Still feeling the momentum from the Williams and Middlebury wins, the Jeffs took the court in LeFrak Gymnasium against Hamilton College for the opening game in the NESCAC quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for the Continentals, Amherst came out firing by scoring nine points on three long-range bombs in the first 1:36 of the game. While the Jeffs continued to attack the Continental defense, Hamilton fought hard to stay in the game and remained within eight points at halftime.
When Taylor Barrise ’12 hit a three for the first basket of the second half, however, the Jeffs went up 42–11 and never looked back, cruising to a 20-point win with a final score of 86–66.
Despite this lopsided final margin, the contest was intriguing and even enthralling at times. Allen Williamson ’13 brought plenty of excitement with a pair of highlight-reel worthy dunks, and a second half alley-oop from point guard Aaron Toomey ’14 to the flying Williamson brought the crowd to its feet.
Even though the lead never shrank under 10 points in the second half, Amherst still had to work hard and make Hamilton earn every point to avoid a comeback.
The Jeffs finally pulled away when the Williamson alley-oop finish led to a few ‘and-one’ chances for the home team, extending the lead to 20 with under seven minutes to play.
This scoring outburst energized the Amherst fans, who began to urge the Hamilton contingent to “Warm the buses!”
The crowd witnessed an Amherst victory soon afterwards, in an effort led by 21 points and seven assists from Toomey. The sophomore star also went six-for-six from the foul line, setting the Amherst record for single-season free throws made with 149 total makes.
Barrise continued his hot shooting with 14 points, making five of seven field goals, including three of five three pointers.
Williamson added a dozen points on six of eight shooting, including his two momentum swinging dunks that ignited the LeFrak crowd.
The top-seeded Jeffs will take on Bates College in the semifinals on Saturday while attempting to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
While Hamilton put up a solid fight, they were no match for Amherst in terms of both skill and experience, as it was their first ever conference tournament experience.
The Bobcats, however, should be a tougher matchup, and Amherst will need to continue its strong play if the team wants to win the program’s 10th league title this season.