Men's Basketball Earns Fifth Seed in NESCAC Tourney
Issue   |   Tue, 02/24/2015 - 23:59
Peter Connolly '18
First-year Johnny McCarthy continues to impress in his first campaign, contributing an average of 10.6 points per game this season.

Following a loss in the regular season finale against Middlebury, Amherst men’s basketball responded well in the NESCAC quarterfinals on the road against Tufts to advance to the NESCAC semifinals this weekend.

After the Jeffs’ loss to Middlebury, they slid down the NESCAC standings and earned the fifth seed, which meant that they would be facing formidable Tufts (the No. 4 seed) in the NESCAC quarterfinals. However, on Saturday, Feb. 21, the Jeffs won in dominant fashion against the Jumbos, securing a 92-66 victory. This victory is especially noteworthy considering Amherst’s performance in a regular season matchup against Tufts, in which the Jeffs lost to the Jumbos by 27 points.

Tufts jumped out to an early 4-0 lead over the Jeffs, but junior guard/forward Connor Green quickly addressed that, as he scored the first 9 points for Amherst to put the Jeffs up 9-6. At 15:37 remaining in the first half, Amherst and Tufts were knotted at 11. However, the Jeffs would soon explode for a 14-0 run, in which first-year guard Johnny McCarthy, and sophomore forwards David George and Jacob Nabatoff supplied most of the scoring.

With about seven minutes left in the first half, the Jeffs were ahead by 20 points at 36-16. Amherst’s lead would once again climb as high as 20 points following a 3-pointer by Green with 2:21 left on the clock, but the Jumbos managed to end the half on an 8-4 lead to cut the lead down to 16.

At halftime, the Jeffs were leading 53-37 and firing on all cylinders, as Amherst shot 58 percent from the field and turned in a whopping 80 percent from beyond the arc.

The Jeffs continued their dominant ways in the second half. Amherst’s lead never fell below 16 points in the second half. While the Jumbos cut the lead to 16 points with about 13 minutes left to make it 63-47, the Jeffs essentially ended the contest by going on a 15-0 run to extend Amherst’s lead to 31 points at 78-47 with just under seven minutes left. The Jeffs would solidly preserve the lead over the final stretch of the game, and they ended with an encouraging 92-66 win.

As a team, the Jeffs shot an extraordinary clip from the field. Amherst was 31-55 from the field (good for a 56.4 percent field goal mark), 13-19 (68.4 percent) on 3-pointers, and 17-19 (89.5 percent) on free throws. These numbers were far better than any of the shooting numbers that Tufts posted in the contest. Additionally, the Jeffs held a 44-28 rebounding edge over the Jumbos and dished the ball more effectively, as Amherst had a 21-8 assist advantage over Tufts. Interestingly enough, the Jumbos only had three turnovers, while Amherst turned the ball over 14 times, but this did not prove to be an issue in Amherst’s dominant victory.

While Green led the scoring with 29 points (in which he was 6-8 from long range) and also pulled down eight boards, a number of other Amherst players were key contributors in the victory. George posted a huge game with 19 points and 10 rebounds to notch the double-double. McCarthy continued his well-rounded play with 10 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, while sophomore guard Reid Berman dished out 11 assists.

The Jumbos had two players reach double figures in points, Ben Ferris scored 14 points and Tom Palleschi had 13 points, but their contributions would not be nearly enough to take down the Jeffs for the second time this season.

“Saturday was a huge win against Tufts,” junior captain Ben Pollack said. “If we had not beaten them, our chances at the NCAA Tournament would have been nowhere near as strong as they are now. We are almost at 20 wins, which normally seems to be where you need to be to secure a spot in the tournament. We lost by about 25 the first time we played them, and beat them by about 25 this time. I think that really shows our growth as a team throughout the season.”

Up next, the Jeffs will take on Bowdoin (the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC) this Saturday in a 4 p.m. game at Trinity (the host site for the remainder of the tournament). The Polar Bears advanced after knocking off Williams (the No. 7 seed), 87-74. In January, the Jeffs topped the Polar Bears, 81-66, as Green exploded for 33 points.

If the Jeffs advance against Bowdoin, they will have the opportunity to compete for a fourth straight NESCAC Championship against either Trinity (the top seed in the NESCAC Tournament) or Wesleyan (the No. 6 seed in the NESCAC).

“Against Bowdoin previously, we played super well,” Green said. “We’re going to have to perform well to beat them once again, as it’s always tough to beat the same team twice in a year. Hopefully we can get this win and keep moving forward, one game at a time.”