Men's Hoops Defeats Midd. in Regular Season Finale
Issue   |   Tue, 02/18/2014 - 22:15

On senior day at Lefrak Gymnasium this past Sunday, Amherst men’s basketball earned a commanding 84-67 victory over the Middlebury Panthers to close out the regular season. With the win, the Jeffs locked up the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC Tournament and closed out the regular season with a 21-2 record, posting a 10-0 home record and 9-1 NESCAC record.
While the two teams exchanged points in the early going, the Jeffs pulled ahead from the Panthers on a 15-1 run to make the score 23-11 with 10 minutes remaining in the half. The run was topped off by six straight points from senior guard David Kalema, including an electrifying dunk that ignited the crowd and made the score 19-10.

The Panthers would then claw their way back into the game and close the gap. A three-pointer from Joey Kizel erased the deficit and gave the Panthers a 29-28 lead with four minutes left in the first half. Middlebury would then finish the half on top and head to the locker room with a 34-30 edge.

The first half between Amherst and Middlebury proved to be a defensive battle. The Jeffs had seven steals in the first half of action, while the Panthers held a 26-19 edge in the rebounding department. The Jeffs were without the size and strength of sophomore forward Ben Pollack, who will be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, making it more difficult to guard against the size of the Panthers. Moreover, guard Aaron Toomey ’14 and senior guard/forward Tom Killian sat out most of the first half after picking up two early fouls.

“I was actually quite delighted that we went into the half just down four. When you are missing [Toomey] and [Killian], in particular, it is going to set you back a little bit scoring-wise, but we played pretty well the rest of the game,” Coach Hixon said.
At the start of the second half, the Jeffs stormed back with a 5-0 run to take a 35-34 lead. After a Middlebury score, Amherst would reclaim the advantage and go on a 7-0 run to take a 42-36 lead, which they would not relinquish.

Amherst’s increased level of play, especially on offense, was noticeable in the second half. Coach Hixon pointed out that his squad scored as many points in the first 10 minutes of the second half (30) as they did for the entire duration of the first half. Indeed, the Jeffs held a 61-47 lead midway through the second half. Moreover, the Jeffs shot at a 66.7 percent clip from field-goal range and 50.0 percent from three-point territory, after shooting 35.5 percent and 11.1 percent in those two categories, respectively, in the first half.

With just over one minute remaining and the victory essentially assured, Coach Hixon removed his four seniors from the game to the tune of a standing ovation from the crowd on senior day.

Although Toomey was rather quiet in the first half due to foul trouble, he caught fire from the field and from three-point range in the second half. Toomey finished with 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half, and hit four three-pointers. Killian put forth 18 points on 8-12 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. The Jeffs had three other players reach double-digit points. Sophomore Connor Green scored 15, Kalema poured in 13 points and David George ’17 added 10.

“I thought David George had a great game to help make up for Pollack’s absence,” said Coach Hixon, specifically highlighting, “the shots that he blocked and the shots that he changed.”

While Middlebury continued to put up a fight in the second half, they could not match the offensive prowess of the Jeffs in the 84-67 loss. While both Amherst and Williams finished with identical 9-1 NESCAC records, the Jeffs hold the tiebreaker advantage over the archival Ephs, resulting in Amherst earning the right to host the entire NESCAC Tournament as the top overall seed.

In the first round of action, the Jeffs will face the Colby Mules (14-10), who enter the tournament as the No. 8 seed, on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. in Lefrak. Last year, the Jeffs defeated Colby 83-52 in the NESCAC Quarterfinals at home, before ultimately winning the NESCAC Championship following victories against Tufts in the semifinals and Williams in the finals.

A few weeks back on Jan. 31, the Jeffs fell to Colby 80-75 on the road, which proved to be their lone NESCAC loss of the season.
“Colby is the only NESCAC team we have lost to in three years,” Coach Hixon said. “Our guys are certainly not going into the game thinking that it will be an easy one.”