Men’s Basketball Cruises to Pair of NESCAC Wins; Jeffs Set for Regular Season Finale against Middlebury
Issue   |   Tue, 02/11/2014 - 23:59
Rob Mattson, Public Affairs Office
Aaron Toomey ’14 led the Jeffs against Wesleyan with 24 points.

With two more victories this past weekend at LeFrak Gymnasium, Amherst men’s basketball hit the 20-win milestone on the season, improving to 20-2 overall (8-1 in the NESCAC and 9-0 at home).

In a 77-65 victory over the Conn. College Camels on Friday, Feb. 7, senior guard Aaron Toomey quickly became the story. He had 27 points, shooting 8-14 (57%) from the field and 5-10 (50%) from beyond the arc. To go along with his strong shooting performance, Toomey dished out eight assists and grabbed nine rebounds, just missing a triple-double for the second consecutive contest after narrowly missing the feat against Lasell in his previous game.

Senior guard/forward Tom Killian posted a strong game as well, scoring 19 points and pulling down a career-high 13 rebounds to earn the double-double. Sophomore guard/forward Connor Green and sophomore forward Ben Pollack also reached double-digit scoring, as Green finished with 11 points and five rebounds while Pollack added 10 points.

Up 19-16 midway through the first half, Toomey and Killian helped spark an offensive run that propelled the Jeffs to a 50-32 lead at the break.

Continuing to push out of the gates in the second half, Amherst went on another run (10-2) to increase their advantage to 60-34. Appearing to be out of the game, the Camels would then respond with a 19-3 run of their own to narrow the deficit to 10 points with less than nine minutes remaining in the game.

The Jeffs would maintain their lead the rest of the way and stave off the Camels’ imposing comeback effort. Ultimately, the Jeffs led the entire way, as they jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and closed the game out with a 77-65 win. While it was clear Amherst outplayed the Camels in the first half, Conn. College fared better from the floor and from three-point range in the second half, outscoring the Jeffs 33-27. Amherst also pulled down seven more rebounds than the Camels, but fell two assists short of Connecticut College’s total as a team.

The next afternoon, the Jeffs defeated Wesleyan comfortably for the second time this season behind the strong play of all three senior captains — Toomey, Killian and guard David Kalema.

Toomey continued his sharp shooting on the weekend, going 7-12 from the field, 4-9 on three-pointers and a perfect 6-6 from the free-throw line.

Killian turned in a solid all-around effort, with 14 points (including 4-5 from behind the three-point-line in the first half), five rebounds and four steals. Kalema scored 12 points on the day, 10 of which came in the second half.

The Jeffs were in command the entire game and led by 12 points or more throughout the second half.

Amherst held a sizable rebounding edge over Wesleyan and also capitalized on a slew of Cardinals turnovers, as the Jeffs scored 29 points on Wesleyan’s 17 lost possessions.

While the Jeffs grabbed two NESCAC victories this past weekend, the team knows that there is still some work to be done as they prepare to make a deep run into postseason play.

“The wins this weekend were huge for us in terms of conference standings,” Toomey said. “They kept us at the top and allow us to control our own destiny in terms of hosting the conference tournament. It was great to get two wins, but we did not play the level of basketball that we will need to if we want to have success in the postseason. We have a lot to work on and having a week before our next game gives us plenty of time to clean some things up and play well this weekend.”

Up next, the Jeffs close out the regular season at home against the Middlebury Panthers (15-7 overall and 5-3 in the NESCAC) on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. Although the Panthers have three NESCAC losses to their name, they lost the three games by a combined total of eight points and have been a strong presence in the conference all year.

The following week, the Jeffs will host a first-round opponent in the NESCAC tournament. To date, Amherst has assured themselves of the no. 2 overall seed or better. A win against Middlebury will guarantee the Jeffs the no. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament, as Amherst and Williams both have a single conference loss, but the Jeffs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating Williams in conference play.

Last February, in one of the most exciting Div. III games of the year, Amherst narrowly defeated Middlebury 104-101 in a triple-overtime thriller. In the contest, the Jeffs appeared to have their backs against the wall during the second-overtime, as Middlebury held a 91-88 lead with five seconds remaining. A Panthers player then intentionally fouled Willy Workman ’13 in the final seconds to send him to the line for a pair of foul shots.

After converting the first opportunity, Workman intentionally missed his second attempt, before putting back his own miss all in one motion to tie the game, and sent it to triple-overtime. It was a phenomenal play that appeared on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays and received press on Deadspin.

The game remained close until the end of the third-overtime, before Toomey drained a clutch three-pointer to put the Jeffs ahead for good with 2.9 seconds left.

Despite the considerable anticipation heading into their final regular season game against the Panthers and the recent competitive history between the two teams, the Jeffs intend to ready themselves for Middlebury just as they would against any other opponent.

“We plan on preparing for Middlebury the way we prepare for any other game,” Toomey said. “Over the past few years they have been a very tough opponent, but we won’t change the way we prepare for games. It’s a huge game for us and them, and both teams will be ready for a battle.”