Men's Basketball Falls to Middlebury in NESCAC Tournament Final Heartbreaker
Issue   |   Tue, 03/01/2016 - 22:46
Mark Box
McCarthy '18is Amherst's second leading scorer with 12.7 points per game.

Men’s basketball faced tough competition in the NESCAC tournament last weekend, where they won an exciting matchup over Tufts last Saturday and then dropped a close game to fourth-seeded Middlebury in the championship game on Sunday. This performance by the 13th-ranked purple and white was enough to earn them an at-large bid for their 18th appearance in the NCAA tournament, their sixth-straight since 2011.

The team’s Saturday game came with much to prove, considering the Tufts Jumbos had handed Amherst their second conference loss of the regular season only weeks earlier. Both teams came out strong, with neither side holding more than a seven-point advantage in the first half before Tufts went into the locker room at halftime with a slim 37-35 lead over the purple and white.

The second half once again saw the two talented squads knotted at a 48-48 stalemate before Eric Conklin ’17 put in back-to-back layups and Connor Green ’16 connected from three-point range to put Amherst up 55-48.

The purple and white mounted their second half charge on a well-balanced offensive effort. Six players finished with double-digit scoring totals for the purple and white, and Conklin, Johnny McCarthy ’18 and David George ’17 were joint top scorers with 14 points each.

With ten minutes left to play, Michael Riopel ’17 hit a clutch three to give the purple and white their largest lead of the game at 64-55. The Jumbos weren’t done yet, as they clawed their way back to tie up the score at 81 before an exciting finish from Amherst. With just 17 seconds left in regulation, Riopel drained yet another three to put the purple and white up by one before sophomore Jayde Dawson put the game away, making two free-throws with eleven seconds left on the clock.

Clutch performers Dawson and Riopel netted 12 and 11, respectively, while junior Jeff Racy was the final Amherst player in double digits with 10 points for the game.

With their Saturday win, Amherst advanced to the championship game on Sunday, where they faced fourth-seeded Middlebury at host college Trinity after the Panthers pulled off a surprising upset of the top-seeded Bantams in their semifinal.

Riopel again came in clutch in the Sunday matchup, leading the team in both points with 17 and rebounds with seven. In the end, however, the Panthers out-rebounded the purple and white, 44-33, putting Amherst at a major disadvantage against a talented Middlebury squad.

Although Amherst jumped out to an early 4-0 lead, Middlebury fought right back, going on a 12-2 tear to give the Panthers a 12-16 lead with 15 minutes left in the first stanza. The purple and white managed to grab the momentum back, however, scoring 19 of the next 21 points capped by a McCarthy swish from behind the arc. More back-and-forth play from both squads set the score at 36-35 in favor of Amherst heading into the locker room.

The purple and white came out strong in the second half, scoring six points in the opening 57 seconds of play. From there, neither team held greater than a three-point lead at any point while the two squads fought through seven tie scores before a Racy three put Amherst up by one with a minute and a half left to play. Unfortunately, clutch free throw shooting by the Panthers in the last seconds of the game set the final score at 81-79 in favor of Middlebury.

This weekend’s split from the purple and white sets their all-time postseason record at an impressive 35-9 in NESCAC tournament play. Despite losing in the final, the purple and white received an at-large bid into yet another NCAA tournament. The men will host their first-round game against 21-6 Husson University at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4.