Men's Basketball Finishes Season in Second Road NCAA Tourney
Issue   |   Tue, 03/10/2015 - 23:02
Rob Mattson
First-year contributor Jayde Dawson averages 8 points per game.

After falling to the 20th-ranked St. John Fisher College this past Saturday, men’s basketball saw their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament ended in the second round following a victory over Sage College in the opening round. Following their loss to St. John Fisher, Amherst was unable to secure a fifth consecutive trip to the Sweet 16 and finished the 2014-2015 season with a 21-8 overall record.

During NCAA first round play in Rochester, New York this past Friday, Amherst’s stellar shooting carried to the team to a convincing 91-67 victory over Sage College. The Jeffs shot an impressive 59 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc. The Jeffs also dominated the glass, as Amherst held a 45-25 rebounding edge over the Gators in the game.

While the Gators would lead by as many as five points with a score of 12-7 early on, Amherst began to pull away midway through the first half. With the game knotted at 19 with 11:27 remaining, the Jeffs used a 12-4 run in just under three minutes to build a 31-23 lead.

The Jeffs held a 43-34 lead heading into halftime and would continue to grow their lead by outscoring Sage 48-33 in the second half. After the Jeffs seemingly built an insurmountable lead early in the second half, the Gators narrowed the deficit to 9 points with 8:24 remaining in second half, with the score at 64-55. However, over the final stretch, Amherst’s impressive shooting enabled the team to comfortably close out the game as the Jeffs outscored the Gators 27-12 to advance with a 24-point win.

With the win on Friday, sophomore guard Reid Berman was the story. While Berman has demonstrated his strong court vision and passing ability with his repeatedly high assist totals for most of the season, Berman exploded in the scoring department against the Gators. While his career high in points entering play on Friday was 11, Berman finished with a career-high and game-high 28 points and six assists. Berman’s 28 points came by way of 11-14 shooting and a 4-6 mark from beyond the arc in only 21 minutes of action.

After emerging in the overtime loss to Wesleyan, Eric Conklin ’17 continued to be an invaluable presence on Friday night with 18 points (on 9-11 shooting) and eight rebounds.

First-year guard Johnny McCarthy, the recently named NESCAC Rookie of the Year, also notched double figures with 11 points, while guard Jeff Racy ’17 had 10 points.

Junior captain and forward Ben Pollack had high praise for both of Amherst’s standouts during Friday night’s victory.

“Reid really stepped up,” Pollack said of Berman. “I was very happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked to get to this point in his career, and I know he’ll continue to work at that level.”

Pollack also had similar words to describe Conklin’s performance both during the NCAA first round and the NESCAC championship an overtime loss to Wesleyan).

“Eric has just been an overall beast lately,” Pollack said. “He’s really just coming into his own and finally feeling comfortable within our offense.”

After an encouraging victory on Friday, the Jeffs were back at it again the next day in Rochester on the home floor of St. John Fisher, Amherst’s opponent in the second round of NCAAs.

While the Jeffs and Cardinals traded baskets early on and the Jeffs held a 13-12 lead about seven minutes into the game, the Cardinals began to pull away after 17-5 run to make the score 29-18 with 7:44 remaining.

St. John Fisher would continue their offensive momentum for the rest of the first half (heading into the halftime break with a 47-34 lead) and into the second half. With just under 13 minutes left, St. John Fisher had a 65-43 lead over the Jeffs, but the resilient Jeffs then mounted a comeback to narrow the deficit to 71-61 with 5:54 to go. However, over the course of the game’s final six minutes, the Cardinals would rebuild the lead that the Jeffs had cut into and finish with an 87-70 victory over the Jeffs.

A pair of guards led the scoring for Amherst on Saturday. The sharpshooting Racy scored 18 points (while shooting 6-8 on 3-pointers), while McCarthy finished with 17 points. Junior Connor Green, a first team All-NESCAC honoree, also notched double figures, finishing with 10 points. In the rebounding department, forward David George ’17 led the way with eight rebounds, while McCarthy pulled down seven boards.

Although the Jeffs shot reasonably well from the field (almost 42 percent) and from beyond the arc (34 percent), and had more rebounds and second chance points than the Cardinals, the Amherst defense was unable to limit the offensive attack of St. John Fisher. Two Cardinals players finished with over 20 points, while the team shot impressively well overall, as St. John Fisher’s overall field goal percentage exceeded 50 percent. Moreover, the Cardinals also converted 9-15 three-pointers and an impressive 22-23 free throws.

While the Jeffs were eliminated from play with the loss to St. John’s Fisher College (who will play Randolph-Macon in the Sweet Sixteen this Friday), next year’s squad will return a very strong and talented core of players, many of which made great strides and emerged as key contributors in 2015. With almost the entire roster coming back with another year of experience, the Jeffs will have the potential to make a deep postseason run in the 2015-2016 season.

“Almost everyone is coming back [next season], so clearly our vibe is that of excitement and optimism,” Pollack said. “We’re going to let this bad taste [of Saturday’s loss to St. John Fisher] resonate for a bit, but after that it’s about getting back to the grind. We’re expecting nothing but perfection next year. Being that it is my last year, I won’t settle for anything less.”