Men’s Basketball Wins 3OT Thriller at Midd.
Issue   |   Tue, 02/19/2013 - 23:06
Niahlah Hope '15, Public Affairs Office
Senior captain Willy Workman’s intentionally missed free throw and putback went viral shortly after the Jeffs’ win, ending up on ESPN’s Top Plays.

In a thrilling triple-overtime epic, the men’s basketball team wrapped up their regular season with a huge victory over No. 3-ranked Middlebury last Tuesday. It was a stunning finish to a game that looked all but wrapped up late in the second half with Amherst nursing a double-digit lead. Yet, a fierce Panthers’ comeback in the last five minutes left the score deadlocked at the end of regulation. Three nip-and-tuck overtime sessions followed, highlighted by an incredible, Sportscenter-worthy basket by Willy Workman ’13 to keep Amherst in the game. Finally, a clutch Aaron Toomey ’14 three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left in the third overtime gave the Jeffs a lead they would not relinquish, as the good guys edged out the 104-101 win.

Amherst came into the contest riding a 15-game winning streak, ranked one spot ahead of the No. 3 Panthers in the national poll. It was a fitting battle between two of the best Division III teams in the nation, as both were fighting for the top seed in the NESCAC playoffs. There was little time for either team to recover though, as both began postseason play three days later. Luckily for the Jeffs, the fatigue did not make a difference, as they rolled over Colby on Saturday and easily moved on to the second round.

In their first game of the week, playing away at Pepin Gymnasium, it was vital for Amherst to get off to a solid start.

Fortunately, they were able to do just that, matching Middlebury hoop-for-hoop through the first five minutes of play. Yet, with a raucous home crowd of over 1,000 fans urging them on, the Panthers were able to make the first run of the game, putting together 13-4 spurt to take an early 25-18 advantage.

The Jeffs, though, responded with a run of their own. Locking down on the defensive end, Amherst allowed only two field goals through the remainder of the first half. Meanwhile, the Jeffs caught fire from the field, paced by 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting from Workman. It was a great effort on the part of the Jeffs coupled with poor shooting from the Panthers, which gave the Jeffs a 14-point advantage heading into the half.

Not willing to be run out of their own gym, the Panthers started the second half on fire, quickly cutting into their deficit with 7-0 run. However, they were unable to get any closer, as the Jeffs responded with a couple buckets of their own to stem the comeback. The back-and-forth affair continued for much of the half with Amherst finding an answer for every Panthers run. The Jeffs’ lead never dwindled to fewer than six points and was as big as 10 with just over six minutes remaining.

Yet, in their desperation, the Panthers finally found another gear, and the Jeffs were unable to match their intensity coming down the stretch. Buoyed by some impressive playmaking by Middlebury guard Joey Kizel ’14, the Panthers went on a 12-2 spurt to take the lead with under a minute left in regulation. Catalyzing the run, Kizel drained a jumper from distance before stealing a pass and finding a teammate for a layup. However, a put-back bucket by Peter Kaasila ’13, following up a Toomey missed layup, stopped the bleeding and allowed Amherst to retake a one-point lead. A foul on the other end with six seconds left allowed Kizel to sink the tying free throw and send the game to extra time.

Middlebury fell behind early in the first overtime session, facing a four-point deficit for most of the period. Amherst, though, was unable to capitalize on their advantage, giving up a big three-pointer to Jake Wolfin ’13 that cut the lead to one with 42 seconds remaining. Following a missed Amherst free throw, the Panthers grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast for another quick score, knotting the score at 81 apiece with nine seconds to play. Toomey’s desperation attempt on the Jeffs’ final possession was blocked and the game continued to a second overtime.

In the second extra session, the Panthers appeared to have the win locked up, leading by three with five seconds remaining. However, with a chance to ice the game and make it a two-possession contest, a missed Middlebury free throw opened the door just a crack for an Amherst miracle. However, rather than allow a desperation three, the Panthers decided to intentionally foul the Jeffs instead.

The Panthers hacked Workman as he reached halfcourt, sending the senior to the line for two free throws with two seconds remaining. After making the first and cutting the deficit to two, Workman missed the second on purpose, taking the Panthers off guard by releasing the ball as soon as he received it from the referee. As the ball caromed off the rim and then the backboard, Workman flew in to put back his own miss, tying the contest at 91. It was miraculous and heads-up play from Workman, earning himself a spot on ESPN highlight reels the following day.

Yet, the drama was not over. Facing another four-point deficit in the final frame, Middlebury again buried a three-pointer to cut Amherst’s lead to one. The Panthers’ then stole an inbounds pass, giving them an opportunity to take the lead. Instead, following an Amherst foul, Middlebury split a pair of free throws and tied the score at 101 with eleven seconds to play.

Without a timeout remaining, Toomey received the inbounds pass and quickly made his way up court. Having gone 4-for-23 to that point in the game, he was certainly having trouble finding his touch on the evening. Yet, the junior guard, who has come up big for Amherst so many times this season, did so once again. Leaving his defender in the dust with a nasty crossover, Toomey was left wide open and buried a three-pointer to give Amherst the lead with three second remaining. A Middlebury three-quarter court heave bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim, and the Jeffs celebrated a hard-fought victory.

With the win, Amherst wrapped up an undefeated regular season in NESCAC play (10-0) for only the second time in program history. Workman led the effort, scoring a career-high 30 points and tying a career-high with 13 rebounds. Kaasila was also outstanding, as he racked up a double-double with 29 points and 11 boards.

The victory also earned Amherst the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC playoffs, which began on Saturday against Colby. Flying high after their thrilling victory, Amherst dispatched the Mules with ease. The Jeffs built a big lead early in the first half, spurred by a 14-0 run, and never looked back. The lead was 14 points heading into intermission, and the Jeffs continued their scoring barrage after the break. Amherst opened the half on a 12-5 run coupled with a 17-2 spurt a few minutes later to blow the game wide open, winning by a final score of 83-52.

Aaron Toomey led the Jeffs’ effort, connecting on eight three-pointers as he built on the momentum of his last-second winner. The junior finished with a game-high 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting, while also contributing seven boards and six assists.

The victory sets up a semifinal matchup against No. 4-seeded Tufts this Saturday. The two teams have faced off once already this season with Amherst earning the victory. However, the playoffs do not leave room for error, so the Jeffs will certainly not be taking this one for granted.

With a chance to play for the NESCAC championship on the line, Amherst will be looking to ride their recent stretch of good play to victory.

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