Lord Jeffs Basketball Tops Bates, Tufts
Issue   |   Tue, 02/05/2013 - 21:14

In the midst of an 11-game winning streak, the men’s basketball team certainly had a target on their back coming into this week. Since suffering their second loss of the season on Dec. 4, the Jeffs have been practically untouchable, inviting the extra attention of opponents seeking a big upset. Yet, Amherst has not been deterred, beating their opponents by an average of 16.5 points per game en route to one of the most impressive stretches in program history. Looking to build on this success, the Jeffs were back in action this week, and with three wins in as many games, were able to keep their winning streak alive.
Amherst began the week traveling to Rhode Island College for a non-conference battle on Tuesday night. The No. 18-ranked Anchormen had suffered only two losses on the season and were looking for a statement win against a top tier opponent. However, the upset was not to be. Behind a career-high tying 34 points from junior Aaron Toomey, the Jeffs managed to hold off a scrappy Rhode Island squad, pulling away in the last few minutes of regulation for a 74-65 victory.

Catching fire in the second half, Toomey made nearly all the big plays for Amherst on this night, scoring 20 of his points in the second half. Every bucket was hugely important, as Rhode Island refused to go away, keeping the game close till the very end. With Amherst nursing a three point lead with under three minutes to play, it was Toomey who connected on a clutch jumper, before icing the game with four free throws down the stretch. He finished the contest 9-for-12 from the field, including an incredible five-for-six from distance, also contributing eight rebounds and a pair of assists.

After a couple days off, the Jeffs faced an important back-to-back set over the weekend. Hosting two conference opponents, Bates on Saturday and Tufts on Sunday, the Jeffs were looking to stay undefeated in NESCAC play and keep pace with highly-ranked Williams and Middlebury.

Seemingly at home in LeFrak Gymnasium, Bates got off to a torrid start, scoring on seven of their first nine possessions to jump out to a 15-4 lead. The hot shooting would not last, however, as the Bobcats soon lost their touch, succumbing to a three-minute scoreless drought that brought the Jeffs back into the contest. Behind a Toomey trey with 7:46 to play in the half, Amherst finally took their first lead of the game at 25-23. Unable to stretch that lead much further, Amherst was caught in a back-and-forth affair until halftime with Bates taking a one-point advantage into the intermission, 38-37.

Following the break, Amherst finally gained some traction with a pair of big runs. A 17-9 burst near the beginning of the half gave the Jeffs a slight edge, but the Bobcats did not go away, fighting back to retake a 58-57 advantage. However, that was the last lead Bates would get. Amherst responded with a 12-0 run and never looked back, running away with the contest down the stretch to win, 86-69. On the evening, Amherst was again led by an impressive performance from Toomey, who shot lights-out en route to a game-high 27 points, in addition to five assists and four rebounds. Willy Workman ’13 chipped in 18 as well and, with those points, became the 26th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau for his collegiate career.

However, even with the big victory and personal accolade, any celebration would have to be put on hold, as Jeffs returned to action the following afternoon against Tufts. Once again, this contest would prove to be a hard-fought battle. Although the Jeffs had chances to pull away, the Jumbos would not relent, finding an answer for every Amherst push. Facing an 11-point deficit in the second half, a 15-6 Tufts run quickly flipped the momentum around, setting the stage for another close finish. This time turning to Peter Kaasila ’13, Amherst managed to pull away, as the big man scoring seven consecutive points to give the Jeffs a little cushion. Coupled with a Toomey jumper, the Purple & White finally stretched their lead to a comfortable margin, squeezing out a 100-89 win.

With another spectacular performance, Toomey led the Jeffs in scoring for the third consecutive game. The guard put together a line of 27 points, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals, outclassing the Jumbos on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. However, equally impressive on the afternoon was Kaasila, who turned in a career-high 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting. He controlled the interior for the Jeffs, staking the team to a 48-42 points-in-the-paint advantage, a big factor in the victory.

With three more wins under their belt, Amherst’s record now sits at 20-2 (8-0 NESCAC). The team has stretched their winning streak to 14 games. That momentum will be vitally important, as the Jeffs finish out their regular season this coming weekend. Playing away at Williams and Middlebury, these will likely be the two toughest games of the year.
With NESCAC seeding on the line, these games have huge playoff implications and will be a true test of how well the Jeffs stack up against the best competition in the conference.