Men’s Basketball Beats Bowdoin 71-70 to Reach NESCAC Semifinals
Issue   |   Tue, 02/20/2018 - 19:50

This past Saturday, the top-seeded Amherst men’s basketball narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of the eighth-ranked Bowdoin Polar Bears in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC tournament. Neither team was able to build a substantial lead on the court, and there were 16 lead changes in the 40 minutes of action.

In the first half, Bowdoin junior forward Jack Simmonds was practically unstoppable. Simmonds put up 21 of his 25 total points before the halftime buzzer sounded. However, thanks to some impressive three-point shooting from Johnny McCarthy ’18 and Garret Day ’21 in the final minutes of the half, the Mammoths were able to enter the locker rooms with a slim one-point advantage over the visiting Polar Bears, 37-36.
Action in the second half closely mirrored that of the first 20 minutes of play, with the lead changing hands several times and both teams experiencing both scoring droughts and impressive runs. With less than a minute left, senior Michael Riopel widened Amherst’s lead to four points by sinking to two clutch free throws. It seemed that the Mammoths would be able to hold off the relentless visitors, but Bowdoin was not ready to give up.
After Riopel’s crucial free throws, the Mammoths had a defensive breakdown on the other end of the court and left Bowdoin guard Liam Farley wide open on the edge of the arc. Farley launched the ball from the three-point line and his third three-pointer of the game cut the Mammoths lead to just one point.

On the next inbound, the Polar Bears quickly fouled Grant Robinson ’21. Since the Polar Bears were in the bonus, Robinson headed to the line to shoot one and one. However, Robinson missed the first shot and Bowdoin collected the defensive rebound.

At the opposite end of the court, Polar Bears’ guard Zavier Rucker was fouled on a shot attempt. Facing immense pressure, Rucker sunk both of his free throws to put Bowdoin on top by one point with just 14 seconds on the clock.

As the Mammoths charged up the court for one last offensive surge, Riopel tossed the ball to Josh Chery ’20, who drove to the hoop and released an off-balance layup that somehow dropped into the basket.
With three seconds remaining, Amherst was back on top 71-70. Bowdoin rushed down the court in a last-ditch effort to find a winning basket, but were unable to get off a good shot and the Mammoths emerged with the heart-stopping win.

McCarthy led the offense with 22 points and shot over 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc. The senior captain also dished out a team-high five assists, and was named NESCAC Athlete of the Week. Riopel was also solid, pacing the team with nine rebounds and putting up 14 points.

“The NESCAC was so even this year,” Riopel said. “We knew even though Bowdoin was coming in as the eighth seed, they were capable of playing at a high level. I am proud of the team for pushing through a lot of adversity and finding a way to prolong our season. We are looking forward to this weekend.”

With the win, the Mammoths punched their ticket to the semifinals of the tournament. As the top seed, Amherst will host both the semifinals and finals on Saturday and Sunday. The Mammoths will look to book a spot in the championship game against Wesleyan at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24.