Men’s Basketball Takes NESCAC Regular Season Title with Win over Middlebury
Issue   |   Tue, 02/13/2018 - 20:08

This past weekend, the Amherst men’s basketball team concluded its roller-coaster ride of a regular season with a pair of wins to clinch a thoroughly unexpected NESCAC regular season title.

On Friday, Feb. 9, the Mammoths returned home to LeFrak Gymnasium to take on archrival Williams, knowing that any hopes for regular season accolades required a win.

The energy inside the gym was palpable, and Amherst managed to hold the then-No. 8 Ephs to under 60 points. Captain Michael Riopel ’18 found his groove and had an incredible game, with the Mammoths’ leading scorer going 3-5 from beyond the three-point arc en route to racking up a team-high 19 points.

Riopel and fellow-captain Johnny McCarthy ’18 each came down with eight boards to pace the team. Sophomore Josh Chery provided some welcome scoring depth with his 10 points, and the Mammoths led for the entirety of the game, finishing with a 72-57 win.

Although victory over Williams was a major win for Amherst, the Mammoths were back in LeFrak the next day for the final regular-season game against Middlebury, a contest that doubled as the team’s senior day.

Before the action began, co-captains Riopel and McCarthy were recognized for their illustrious Amherst basketball careers.

McCarthy has been a starter since his first year at Amherst and Riopel has emerged as the team’s offensive workhorse the past few years.

Fellow-senior Christien Wright was also honored. Wright suffered a career-ending injury a few years ago and was never able to return to the court as a player, but he continued to dedicate his time to the team as an assistant coach.

After Riopel, McCarthy and Wright were honored, the starting five stepped onto the court to face off against the No. 5 Panthers.

Saturday’s game proved to be similar to the previous night’s contest against Williams, as Amherst set the pace of the game right from tip-off and did not relent for the next 40 minutes.

Riopel and McCarthy were stellar; McCarthy collected 11 points and a team-high 14 rebounds, while Riopel shot well and led the team with 17 points.

Fru Che ’21 and Joe Schneider ’19 each contributed 13 points in the winning effort.

Junior Dylan Groff’s sharp-shooting off the bench added another 10 points for the Mammoths, who easily brushed aside the Panthers, 80-68.

Riopel and McCarthy walked off the court to a standing ovation, as did head coach David Hixon, who collected his 800th win in his 41st season at the college.

With these two huge wins against ranked opponents, Amherst finished first in the NESCAC regular season standings, courtesy of winning the tie-break among the five teams that finished at 7-3 in NESCAC play.
The Mammoths finished the regular season with a 16-8 record overall and 7-3 mark in conference play.

Amherst will open up postseason action in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament on Saturday, Feb. 17, against the eighth-seeded Bowdoin in LeFrak at 4 p.m.