Men’s Basketball Rides Eight Game Win Streak
Issue   |   Wed, 01/29/2014 - 00:56

Following their victories against Williams and Trinity this past week, Amherst men’s basketball stands at 15-1 (5-0 NESCAC) and appears primed for another deep run in postseason play. No. 3-ranked Amherst currently sports an eight-game winning streak.

Most recently, Amherst defeated the Trinity Bantams (who entered play with an 11-5 record and a 3-1 NESCAC record) 67-61 in Hartford on Saturday. Senior guard David Kalema led the way with 18 points, and tied the game high in scoring with Trinity guard Jaquann Starks.

The Jeffs have already swept the two-game regular season series against Williams. In the first 2013-2014 season matchup, Amherst defeated the Ephs (ranked fifth in the nation at the time) by a score of 84-73 at LeFrak Gymnasium on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Senior shooting guard Tom Killian and sophomore swingman Connor Green led the scoring with 23 points each against Williams. Killian shot an impressive 9-13 from the field and 3-6 (50%) from three-point range, while Green amassed a 50% overall field goal percentage and a 40% mark from deep. Senior guard and reigning National Player of the Year Aaron Toomey added 16 points 10 assists for the Jeffs to earn the double-double in the win over the Ephs.

In the second game of the season series against Williams on Wednesday, Jan. 22, the Jeffs topped the Ephs 82-70 on the road. Killian led the way with 21 points, eight rebounds and four steals, while Kalema added 17 points. Forward Ben Pollack ’16 had an efficient 12 points and six rebounds, while Green added 10 points and seven boards.

Amherst’s lone Div. III blemish so far this season came on the road against the Emerson College Lions on Saturday, Dec. 7 in a 90-79 loss. The Lions largely outplayed the Jeffs and led for most of the game. Against Emerson, the Jeffs were shorthanded, as they were without the injured Killian and Pollack, two key contributors for Amherst who play major minutes.

Emerson combined for a 51.5% field goal percentage and a 35.7% three-point percentage, while Amherst shot 42.2% from the field and 24.0% from deep. The Lions also outrebounded the Jeffs, racking up 29 defensive rebounds and 11 boards on the offensive glass (for a total of 40 rebounds), while Amherst had 26 overall rebounds, 21 of which were defensive rebounds and five offensive boards. The loss against Emerson marked the only 2013 calendar year loss for the Jeffs and snapped Amherst’s 29-game winning streak dating back to December 2012; however, the team responded well following this loss.

“We turned it around with two great road wins against a very good Brandeis team and a very good Babson team,” said Coach David Hixon.

The Jeffs narrowly defeated Brandeis on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Although Amherst was up comfortably 69-52 with just over five minutes to play, Brandeis relentlessly fought back to narrow the deficit to four with under 15 seconds to play. Ultimately, Toomey’s 27 points proved to be too much for Brandeis in the 75-70 Amherst victory.

Two days later, Amherst beat Babson 90-77 after suffering a 78-70 home loss to Babson in December of 2012. With the victory against Babson, Coach Hixon earned his 700th career win at the helm for Amherst men’s basketball.

In Amherst’s win over Babson, Killian led all scorers with 27 points, and got the Jeffs off to a fast start by netting the team’s first 14 points. Green (26 points) and Toomey (23 points) also helped propel Amherst to victory against Babson’s balanced scoring attack, as five Babson players scored in double figures. On the defensive side, first-year David George swatted a career-high seven shots and proved to be an intimidating defensive presence.

Against Div. II opponent Nova Southeastern on New Year’s Day in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the Jeffs put up an admirable fight and lost a high-scoring nail-biter in overtime, 105-101. However, because the Jeffs were facing a non-Div. III opponent in Nova Southeastern (a team that is composed of scholarship players and that has beaten a Div. I team this season), the loss does not technically count against Amherst’s record. Rather, the loss appears to help their strength of schedule and the team’s strong performance against Nova Southeastern will likely only benefit the Jeffs come NCAA Tournament time. It is worth recognizing that Amherst was, once again, without Pollack versus Nova Southeastern.

Against Nova Southeastern, Green set a career high with an astounding 42 points in the loss, including a 50% mark from three-point range on 8 of 16 shooting, while Toomey poured in 28 points. Toomey’s contributions against Nova Southeastern extended well beyond scoring, as he filled up the stats sheet with eight assists, five rebounds, and six steals.

Overall, Coach Hixon said that the team’s trip to Florida and the game against Nova Southeastern was “not a bad result [and] a great training trip. It’s nice to play a close game, win or lose, down there, just because it makes you better.”

During Amherst’s 75-67 win against Tufts on Friday, Jan.17, Toomey broke the all-time program scoring record with 28 points on the game, moving past the previous record-holder Steve Zieja ’03, who scored 1,708 career points.

“Aaron has really been consistent and has been consistent since he got on the campus,” said Coach Hixon. “Aaron, from the get-go, has been a scorer for us. It’s exciting. Aaron certainly deserves it, he is as good a scoring point guard as we’ve had and a great competitor.”

In addition to the previous games, Amherst has picked up recent, double-digit victories against Eastern Connecticut State (a talented team on pace to win the Little East Conference), Hamilton, Wesleyan and Bates.

So far this season, the Jeffs have outscored opponents 1485-1253 and are averaging almost seven more rebounds per game and three more assists per game when compared to the opposition.

Coach Hixon has been pleased with the leadership of this year’s team.

“Once again, we are being led by three seniors,” Coach Hixon said, referring to the captaincy and senior leadership of Kalema, Killian, and Toomey.

In the 2012-2013, the Jeffs were led by the strong play and leadership of another senior trio of starters (Willy Workman ’13, Allen Williamson ’13, and Peter Kaasila ’13).

Moreover, Coach Hixon noted that while the team “had a great January” and that several young players have developed over the course of the season and “stepped up” recently, he is still looking forward to watching the team’s reserve players continue to grow and make increasing contributions. Coach Hixon said that senior guard Connor Gach (who had a career-high 12 points against Bates), forward Joseph Mussachia ’15, first-year guard Reid Berman and forward Jacob Nabatoff ’17 have all made positive strides of late.

The Jeffs have a tightly-packed schedule ahead with four games in the next six days. Tonight, the Jeffs square off at home against Rhode Island College (11-6 and 5-2 in Little East Conference play) at 7 p.m. This weekend, Amherst will travel to Maine, as they are scheduled to face NESCAC opponent Colby (8-8 overall and 1-4 in NESCAC play) on Friday night at 8 p.m. and take on No. 19-ranked Bowdoin (15-1 overall and 4-1 in the NESCAC) the next afternoon at 4 p.m. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Amherst is set to face off against Lasell College (8-7 overall and 5-4 in conference play) on the road.