Men's Basketball Defeats Middlebury with Three-Pointer in Final Seconds
Issue   |   Tue, 02/28/2012 - 22:20
Photo courtesy of Alec Jacobson '12

After a game-winning jumper against Williams and a last-second layup to beat Middlebury to finish the regular season, it was hard to imagine that the Jeffs could sustain the high level of drama in the postseason. But after handily beating Hamilton in the NESCAC quarterfinals, Amherst would need to keep the same composure and execution showcased in their late-season surge to win a pair of games this weekend and earn the conference title that eluded them last year.

The team standing in Amherst’s way in the semifinals, the Bates Bobcats, never stood a chance from the beginning of the contest. The Jeffs opened the Saturday action on a 41-17 run, spurred by two early three-pointers from Taylor Barrise ’12, and they kept the pressure on the Bobcats until the final buzzer sounded. While Bates kept making runs throughout the game, the Amherst advantage rarely dipped into single digits.

Shooting efficiency proved a large part of the Jeffs’ success in this one, as they shot 50 percent from three-point land and 62.1 percent from the floor en route to a 97–74 win. Continuing his recent outstanding play, Aaron Toomey ’14 was the star of this game with a career-high 26 points on seven-of-nine shooting from the field. Barrise scored 16, hitting four of his five threes in the process, and Willy Workman ’13 and Jeff Holmes ’12 also broke double figures in scoring for the Jeffs.

The next afternoon, the Jeffs took on Middlebury with the NESCAC title, and the automatic NCAA bid accompanying it, on the line. Whatever drama had been absent against Hamilton and Bates returned in this game, as both teams made big runs that resulted in a close game in the final seconds. Amherst came out with energy, taking a 36-26 lead into halftime and extending the margin to 15 with roughly 10 minutes to play in the game.

Middlebury fought back, however, with a 10-0 run that brought the Panthers back into the game and eventually cut the deficit to one with just over a minute to play. Holmes came up with a huge three-point play for the Jeffs, and his free throw put Amherst up by four points and seemingly on its way to another victory.

Yet Middlebury refused to fade away, scoring the next four points to knot the game at 68 points apiece. With the seconds ticking down on the final possession of the game, Toomey brought the ball upcourt and waited to get off the last shot of the game. After sinking the game-winner against Williams himself, nearly everyone in the gym thought the star point guard would go for the win himself. But when Toomey drove to the basket, the Middlebury defense converged on him, and he kicked it out to the sharpshooting Barrise, who nailed a three-pointer with 3.2 seconds left that won the Jeffs their fifth NESCAC title and first since 2006.

The final 71–69 score was yet another example of Amherst keeping its cool when the stakes got high, a good sign for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Toomey had another solid game with 18 points, and Workman’s all around effort of 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals also proved crucial for Amherst.

For his efforts in the NESCAC Tournament, Toomey earned his fourth career NESCAC Player of the Week award after averaging 22 points and 5.5 assists per game over the weekend. He ranks among the conference leaders in assists, free throw percentage, steals and scoring and has led the Jeffs in scoring in each of the past four games.

As a team, the Jeffs’ strong showing in the NESCAC Tournament not only earned them an automatic NCAA bid but also a first-round bye in the national tournament for the ninth time in program history. The team will wait until Saturday to take on the winner of New York Univ. and Misericordia Univ. in the friendly confines of LeFrak Gymnasium, where the Jeffs have won their last 29 games.

Amherst comes into the tournament riding a wave of momentum from its conference championship and its 10-0 NESCAC record against some of the top teams in the nation. The Jeffs will look to extend their win streak to 13 games on Saturday and, hopefully, turn their recent winning ways into a long tournament run.