Men's Hoops Survives Tough End to January
Issue   |   Tue, 02/04/2014 - 22:30

With four games this past week against tough competition, Amherst men’s basketball earned three victories and suffered a close conference loss that snapped their 25-game NESCAC winning streak. The Jeffs now stand at 18-2 overall and 6-1 in the NESCAC with three regular season games remaining before the conference tournament.
Amherst’s week began on Wednesday, Jan. 29 with a matchup against the Rhode Island College Anchormen at LeFrak Gymnasium.

The first half was extremely close between the two sides, with the score tied 36-36 at the break. The first 20 minutes of play consisted of a whopping 12 lead changes and six ties. Rhode Island College held a seven point lead at 16-9 just over seven minutes into the half, while Amherst was up by as many as four when a free throw from senior guard/forward Tom Killian made the score 9-5.

In the first half, Amherst shot a higher percentage from the field than Rhode Island, but the Anchormen converted eight more free throw attempts than the Jeffs.

Star guard Aaron Toomey ’14, who sat for most of the first half due to foul trouble, was held scoreless in the opening half, before turning it on in the second 20 minutes.

Though the Jeffs were trailing Rhode Island 49-40 with 16:30 left to go, Toomey and the Amherst offense would catch fire and carry the Jeffs to victory. Beginning with a three from Toomey, the Jeffs responded with a 10-0 run to take back the lead at 50-49, and would essentially lead for the rest of the way, as Amherst scored 40 points over the final 15 minutes of play.
Toomey scored 22 points in the second half alone and had six assists on the game, while fellow senior captains Killian and senior guard David Kalema both made major contributions. Killian had a game-high 26 points, shooting 9-14 from the field and 4-7 from deep, to go along with nine rebounds and five steals while Kalema poured in 13 points.

As the Amherst offense exploded, the defense also turned it up a notch, holding the Anchormen to 24 second-half points, including 11 points over the final 16 minutes, to give Amherst an 80-60 win. En route to victory, the Jeffs closed out the game on a 30-5 run.

Regarding this dominant stretch against Rhode Island College, coach David Hixon ’79 said that the run “was as good as I’ve seen us play.”

Two days later, the Jeffs traveled to Maine for a NESCAC matchup and suffered a major upset at the hands of Colby, who entered play with a lone NESCAC victory over Wesleyan.

Amherst took a 41-34 lead into the halftime break following an 11-1 run near the end of the half. Later on, the Jeffs appeared to be in command with a 56-47 lead six minutes into the second half, but the Mules would answer the Jeffs’ challenge.
As hot as the Amherst offense was at the end of their game against Rhode Island, the Jeffs struggled offensively in the final portion of the Colby game, as the Jeffs did not convert a field goal in the last 10 minutes of the contest. Ultimately, Amherst’s offensive woes proved to be too big of an obstacle to overcome, falling to Colby by a score of 80-75. The Mules outscored the Jeffs 33-19 in the final 14 minutes of play.

The Mules were led by the contributions of Patrick Stewart, who scored 25 points and had five rebounds against Amherst and was recognized as NESCAC Player of the Week for his efforts. In the loss against the Mules, Amherst had a trio of double-digit scorers. Toomey scored 26 points, grabbed seven boards and dished out five assists, Kalema had 14 points and sophomore forward Ben Pollack earned the double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Prior to their loss against Colby, Amherst was last beaten in NESCAC play in February 2011, ending a 25-game NESCAC winning streak.

The next afternoon, the Jeffs responded with a thrilling victory over No. 19 Bowdoin.

Sophomore guard/forward Connor Green carried the offense and provided impact scoring with 26 points, including six three-point field goals and was the only player on either squad to score upwards of 20 points in the game. Toomey notched a double-double on 16 points and 10 assists.

The Polar Bears had a two-point lead at halftime and jumped out of the gates in the second half, as they scored the first six points to give them a 43-35 edge over Amherst.

However, Green helped jump the offense in the second half with multiple scores from long distance and the Jeffs stormed back to take a 63-56 lead with about seven minutes remaining in the game.

From there, the Polar Bears whittled down Amherst’s lead to 68-67 with 24 seconds remaining, but Toomey nailed a pair of free throws to ice the 70-67 victory for the Jeffs and deal the Polar Bears their second loss this season.

As a team, the Jeffs netted 15 three-pointers and limited themselves to just five turnovers. On one hand, the Polar Bears held a sizable rebounding edge, but committed 18 total turnovers and Amherst capitalized on Bowdoin’s ball-handling mistakes by turning those lost possessions into 21 points.

“Bowdoin was 17-1 coming into the came and pretty comfortable in a lot of their results, so they’re a really good team,” Hixon said. “For us to beat them on the road, after spending all the energy we did trying to come back against Colby, I think it was a terrific win for us.”

Last night, after trailing 19-4 early in the game against Lasell, Amherst went on a 41-12 run to take a 47-40 at half. The Jeffs went on to win 95-74.

“It is good to play tough teams, and it is good to play close games. I don’t think that the Colby loss really hurt us. As long as we don’t take many other dings and can take care of business, we are in good position for everything [going forward],” Hixon said, summarizing the week.

Up next, the Jeffs face Conn. College (9-9 overall and 2-4 in the NESCAC) on Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. in LeFrak.
Amherst has a quick turnaround, as they are set to take on Wesleyan (whom Amherst beat 76-62 in mid-January) the next afternoon at 4 p.m. in front of the home crowd fans.