Men's Basketball Avenges Colby Loss with 82-72 Win
Issue   |   Tue, 02/25/2014 - 22:41
Photo courtesy of Niahlah Hope '15
David George ’17 had a double-double against Colby in the NESCAC quarterfinals with 10 points and 15 rebounds. George is averaging 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for his rookie season.

On Saturday, Feb. 22, Amherst men’s basketball bounced back from their regular season loss against Colby with an 82-72 triumph in the NESCAC Quarterfinals. With the victory, the Jeffs earned their 22nd win of the season and advanced to the NESCAC Semifinals.

To start the game, the Jeffs held a 16-8 early advantage, but they relinquished the edge as Colby pulled even at 29 with 3:14 remaining in the first half. While Colby grabbed the lead late in the half, the Jeffs went into the halftime break with 38-35 lead. In the first 20 minutes, guard/forward Tom Killian ’14 led the scoring with 13 points on 6-9 shooting from the field, while guard/forward Connor Green ’16 also added eight points.

The Mules had balanced scoring in the first period, with seven players pouring in at least four first-half points. The Jeffs, however, limited Colby’s big men offensively in the first half, even without the presence of sophomore forward Ben Pollack, who is out for the year after sustaining a season-ending knee injury.

Although the Jeffs led at the half, their cushion was not secure, as the Mules stormed back early in the second half to take lead a 49-47 lead and then hold a 53-52 edge with 13 minutes left in the game. A three-pointer from Green then put the Jeffs ahead at 55-53 and marked the point at which the Jeffs would never trail again in the game. Amherst would build their lead to 72-63 with under five minutes remaining and continue to hold on for an 82-72 victory.

In the second half, Green caught fire, shooting 6-11 on field goals and scored 15 points, finishing with a game-high 23 points on the day. Senior guard David Kalema was also solid, as he scored 11 second half points for a total of 14 points.

Although George only added two more points to his total in the second half, he grabbed another eight rebounds to finish with a whopping 15 rebounds, including 10 defensive rebounds, to give him a double-double with 10 points overall. George also had a major presence on the defensive end, blocking four shots.

“George, I thought, played his best game to date,” Coach David Hixon ’75 said. “We haven’t had a kid get 15 rebounds probably in 20 years. That’s the type of stuff he can do. Moving forward for us, I think he is a really good five.”

While the Mules had a higher field goal percentage and three-point percentage than the Jeffs, Colby committed eight more turnovers than Amherst, which perhaps accounted for part of the Jeffs’ margin of victory.

In the end, the Jeffs had five players attain double digits in scoring. In addition to Green, Kalema and George, Killian netted 17 points, while senior guard Aaron Toomey closed with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Connor Gach ’14 added to the offense with six points on two three-pointers off the bench.

“I think we were very balanced as a team, which just shows you what we can do,” Hixon said. “Certainly Killian, Kalema, Toomey and Green all added great pieces to it. It was hard to tell in the game who was going to be the leading scorer, and it didn’t seem to really make any difference, which is the way you want to play.”

While Colby was eliminated after the loss to Amherst, Hixon voiced considerable respect for the Colby program and believes that the team has a bright future ahead with its young core.

“For Colby to come in and play us [well] with all sophomores basically, that spells trouble for the league over the next two years,” he said.

Up next, the top-seeded Jeffs will take on the Trinity Bantams (15-10 overall and 5-5 in the NESCAC) in the NESCAC Semifinals at Lefrak Gymnasium, with the match-up set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 1. The Bantams advanced to the conference semifinals after a thrilling 71-67 victory over the favored Bowdoin Polar Bears in triple overtime.

In the regular season, the Jeffs held on for a 67-61 victory over Trinity in Hartford, Conn. The Bantams feature a balanced scoring attack and are led by sophomore guard Jaquann Starks and first-year forward Shay Ajayi, who are both averaging 11.0 points per game.

“Starks is a very good guard. He can shoot the three, he is quick, he can get to the basket and also create things for other players,” Hixon noted.

The Bantams are perhaps best known for their strength and size, as they have proved to be a strong defensive team and offensive rebounding team.

“Trinity is going to keep the score low,” Hixon said. “It is going to be a war for sure, and the question is if we can hold up against the physicality of it. We have to shoot the ball well, and we really have to expose their weaknesses, because they are long, athletic, aggressive and physical.”

The winner of the Amherst vs. Trinity contest will face the victor of the other NESCAC Semifinal matchup between second seeded Williams (22-3 overall and 9-1 in the NESCAC) and third seeded Middlebury (17-8 overall and 6-4 in the NESCAC), scheduled for 4 p.m. at LeFrak.

If the Jeffs are to advance, they will play a team that they have beaten in the 2013-2014 regular season regardless of the outcome of the other seminfinal, as Amherst has knocked off Williams twice on the year and just recently defeated Middlebury. The NESCAC Finals will take place the following day at LeFrak, with the champion earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.