CLINTON, NY – In an exciting NESCAC Semifinal matchup, the 3rd seeded Amherst Mammoths (22-4) triumphed over the Williams Ephs (20-6) by a final score of 74-69. After blowing a double-digit lead in the second half, the Mammoths finished the game on a 10-0 run to advance to tomorrow's final.
"I thought it was very similar to the first time we played them," said Williams Head Coach Kevin App. "I thought our guys did a great job of staying mentally tough and fighting when we were down. But obviously Amherst didn't flinch either when they were down. When two good teams play for a third time, it's likely to come down to one play or call. In the end, we came up short."
Having lost both regular season matchups against Amherst, Williams sought to build an early lead. But despite two early three-pointers from James Heskett, the Ephs could not create any separation. Five minutes into the game, Amherst guard Devonn Allen drilled a three to give the Mammoths a 13-12 advantage, a lead they would not relinquish for most of the half.
Fighting from behind for the next portion of the game, Williams struggled at the free throw line and missed several close-in opportunities. While they trailed by as many as eight, the Ephs managed to cut their deficit to four at 28-24 following a smooth jump shot by Heskett. But a shooting foul committed by Bobby Casey on the next possession sent him to the bench with two fouls. In his absence, Amherst scored four straight points to go up 32-24 with under seven minutes in the half.
With their leading scorer on the bench, the Ephs rattled off a 9-0 run over the next five minutes to regain the lead at 33-32. But Amherst quelled the Ephs' momentum by finishing the half on an 8-2 run. Amherst guard Grant Robinson punctuated the run with a pull-up three pointer as the buzzer sounded to put Amherst up 40-35 at the half.
In theory, the difference could be accounted for at the free throw line. Williams shot 7-12 for a 58 percent clip while Amherst converted a perfect 7-7. Robinson led all scorers with an impressive 16 points. Heskett led Williams with 11 while Matt Karpowicz added 7 points and 5 rebounds.
Amherst picked up their momentum from the end of the first half in the opening minute of the second. After Casey had a three-point attempt blocked, the ball made its way to Amherst's Joseph Schneider for a breakaway two-handed jam.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Amherst built a 10-point lead at 48-38. With eleven minutes remaining, the Ephs found themselves down 55-45 and in desperate need of some offense. Over the next three minutes, four different players contributed points as Williams narrowed their deficit to 3 at 56-57, forcing Amherst to call timeout. Out of the timeout, Karpowicz scored off a nice post move to give the Ephs their first lead of the second half.
It would remain a one-possession game until Casey hit a clutch three from the left side to put the Ephs up 69-64 with 3:27 left. The three, Casey's only one of the game, capped a 5-0 run that swung the game in favor of Williams. But fueled by eight points by Grant Robinson, Amherst responded with a timely 10-0 run to give them the playoff victory.
Casey had a three-point opportunity to tie the game with 14 seconds left, but his attempt rimmed out. Robinson hit two free throws on the other end to seal the win.
Robinson led all scorers with 32 points. Joseph Schneider added 10 points and 8 rebounds on perfect 3-3 shooting for the Mammoths.
"He's had a pehnomenal year and played really well the last few games," Coach App said of Amherst guard, Robinson. "Unfortunately, he had a heck of a game today."
Casey led the Ephs with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Scadlock added 11 points and 9 rebounds.
Amherst will face Hamilton in tomorrow's NESCAC Final at noon. Williams will await their fate from the NCAA Selection committee.
"We hope that we're in a good spot," said Coach App. "No matter what you just have to focus on playing the team put in front of you at this point. Hopefully we'll get some more time together."