Toom-Sanity Rocks Lefrak
Issue   |   Wed, 02/15/2012 - 00:38
Photo courtesy of Niahlah Hope '15
Sophomore sensation and leading scorer Aaron Toomey celebrates at the buzzer in a 77-75 overtime victory over Middlebury on Saturday. The frenzied home crowd rushed onto the court after both games last weekend.

The last weekend of the regular season proved to be the most thrilling for the men’s basketball team, as they battled Williams and Middlebury on back-to-back nights with conference bragging rights and the NESCAC top seed at stake.

The Ephs arrived in Amherst on Friday with a sizable contingent of fans ready to cheer their team on in enemy territory. In addition, Williams was looking for revenge after narrowly losing to the Jeffs at home earlier this year. In that game, Aaron Toomey ’14 sunk two clutch free throws with 4.5 seconds left to give the Jeffs the win, and his flair for the dramatic would continue in the second matchup.

The Amherst student body crowded into the stands and on the baseline en masse for the game, urging the Jeffs on with chants and screams throughout the contest and making sure the visitors from Williamstown never got comfortable. The atmosphere in LeFrak was buzzing and loud before the tipoff, and the volume only went up as the game went on.

Both teams came out with intensity in the first half, and the battle was on in a contest truly worthy of the Amherst/Williams rivalry. The lead was traded back and forth several times, with the margin remaining within a basket or two throughout until Williams mustered a mini-run to take a five-point lead into the locker room. The second half only ramped up the tension in LeFrak, as the game remained tight until an 8–0 Amherst run put the Jeffs up by eight with just under seven minutes to play.

The Ephs stormed back with back-to-back threes, however, and eventually tied the game at 71 with 3:29 remaining. As the drama kept building, the volume kept increasing in the gym, with battling chants ringing across the court between the Williams and Amherst supporters. The Ephs took a one-point advantage with 1:13 remaining, but Taylor Barrise ’12 hit his seventh and most important three-pointer of the game to put Amherst up by a pair with 59.6 seconds left. The teams traded baskets before Williams tied the game at 78 with 13 seconds on the clock, just as the crowd noise reached a screaming crescendo.

Thirteen seconds proved too much time to give Toomey, as he brought the ball up and crossed over his defender before spinning and hitting a game-winning fadeaway jumper with 1.9 seconds remaining. The shot, undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments in recent Amherst athletic history, sent the crowd into a frenzy, and when Williams’ last desperation shot went wide of the mark, students stormed the court to celebrate the 80–78 victory in raucous fashion. In this kind of game, the resolve and clutch play of the Jeffs mattered much more than any statistic, as Toomey scored the final two of his 18 points with ice in his veins. He also added six rebounds and five assists, and Barrise shot seven-for-12 from three- point range for 21 points. Willy Workman ’13 was also instrumental in the victory, scoring 14 points, including a twisting lay-up in the second half that drew gasps from the crowd, and grabbing seven rebounds as well.

After the high drama that took place on Friday, it seemed inconceivable that Saturday’s contest against Middlebury could match the emotional energy of an Amherst/Williams instant classic, but the Jeffs and Panthers managed to give the LeFrak crows a second nail-biter in as many days. The tangible stakes were higher in this game than against Williams, as the winner would earn the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC Tournament.

The Jeffs, energized by the crowd and the momentum they gained by beating Williams, ran the Panthers off the court to begin the game, building a 15-point lead with 2:50 to play in the first half. This strong run was highlighted by an alley-oop from Toomey to Allen Williamson ’13, who went up and threw the ball down with two hands in front of the Amherst student section. Yet, Middlebury scored the next 11 points and went into halftime down by only four points. The second half lacked the long scoring runs that the first frame provided, with the teams staying close throughout. The Panthers took a three-point lead late in regulation, but Barrise nailed yet another clutch three-ball with about one minute left to knot the score at 67. Toomey proved his reliability with the game on the line as well, hitting a pair of free throws to tie the game at 69 with 10 seconds remaining. The Jeffs nearly won on a miracle shot by Workman as time expired, but his half-court heave went ever so slightly to the left and bounced off the rim after leaving the entire gym holding its breath.

The overtime period was dominated by free throws, as Toomey and Pete Kaasila ’13 both hit important shots from the line and put the Jeffs in a position to win on the last possession yet again with the game tied at 75. This time, however, Toomey could not penetrate the lane as he had against Williams, and he had to settle for an off-balance three that was off the mark. But Kaasila, gaining inside position on the Middlebury defenders, muscled his way inside and put the missed shot back up against the glass and in with 2.8 seconds to play. His heads-up play proved the game winner, as the fans stormed the court one more time following the 77–75 overtime triumph. In addition to the regular contributors (Toomey led the team with 18 points, and Barrise added 13), David Kalema ’14 spelled Toomey as the point guard for significant minutes and tallied 11 points. In addition to delivering the final, clutch play, Kaasila was solid throughout the contest, scoring 12 points and snatching 11 rebounds.

After dramatic victories on back to back nights, the team is riding an incredible wave of momentum into the NESCAC Tournament, where the first seeded Jeffs will take on eighth seeded Hamilton College in LeFrak in the quarterfinal round on Saturday.