AMHERST, MASS. — The Williams College Ephs (7-6/1-1 NESCAC) took down rival Amherst (10-4/1-1 NESCAC) 72-69 in a conference showdown at LeFrak Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon. The Ephs went 6-6 on free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.
"I'm just really happy for the guys. As a coach you can feel you're improving and you can see all the things you're doing better in practice and in games. I think the guys have been feeling it too, and maybe have been frustrated during a couple games for not finishing. I'm really proud of especially our seniors and younger guys for getting it done today," Eph head coach Kevin App said postgame.
Quick baskets from Eric Sellew and Fru Che gave the Mammoths a 5-0 lead 1:12 into the game. From there, the Ephs would go on a 12-2 run. Matt Karpowicz had six points in the surge, controlling the game from the paint.
Williams continued to play fast, and a layup from Brandon Arnold with 11:09 to go in the half made the score 19-11. Amherst would then score on three straight possessions, and two free throws from Che cut the Eph lead to three points.
Sellew rolled off five straight points for the Mammoths, and his three-pointer with 5:09 to play saw Amherst close the gap to 24-23.
The last five minutes of the half were all Williams. Spivy scored eight points in under two minutes, and the Ephs extended their lead to eight after a Jovan Jones layup. A three-point basket from Henry Feinberg put the Ephs up 11, and they went into the locker room up 40-29.
Spivy led all scorers with 12 points, and Karpowicz added eight on 4-4 shooting. Che had 11 for the Mammoths. Williams shot 58% from the field in the half, while holding the opposition to 34%.
The Mammoths came out of the gate firing in the second half, reducing the Ephs' lead to 40-35 with 18:19 left. App called a timeout to stop the run, but Sellew continued to dominate, taking the lead for Amherst with a trey and dunking on the next possession. His ninth point of the half gave the Mammoths a three point advantage with 16:04 to go.
App had high praise for the Amherst fight, remarking, "[Amherst head coach] Aaron Toomey is a great coach, and his guys came out really strong in the second half. They showed why they're a championship program and have a great team. Credit to them, they took it to us."
A turning point of the second half was when the Ephs forced a shot clock violation with 11:52 left. On the next Williams offensive trip, Karpowicz converted an and-one, the first Eph basket in over six minutes. Jones joined his teammate with an old-fashioned three-point-play a minute later, and the Ephs found themselves down just 50-48.
After a Devonn Allen three-pointer for the Mammoths, Ryan Moon finished yet another and-one for the Ephs. This foul was key, as it put the Ephs in the bonus with over nine minutes remaining. Spivy hit his third shot from downtown on the next possession, taking the lead back for Williams at 54-53 with 9:05 to go.
"To have that happen and fight through it was all we could ask as coaches," App said of the Ephs' determination. "I think that was the disappointments earlier in the year coming to fruition. I thought what we did best during that stretch was we kept competing in the half court on defense, instead of getting tense. That's where our leadership has really come a long way."
The lead changed sides multiple times over the next several minutes, but stayed within three points. The Mammoths held the lead for a few minutes, but Williams retook a 61-60 lead with 3:51 to play when Jones forced a Che miss on the defensive end and Karpowicz scored on the other end.
The next few minutes were all defense, and Williams held a narrow 66-64 edge with 2:29 to go after Allen hit two free throws.
The Ephs stopped Amherst on defense, and the Mammoths fouled to put Spivy on the line with 28 seconds to play. He knocked down both free throws to extend the lead to four. Grant Robinson then went down and drew a foul with 23 seconds left for Amherst. He made both to cut the deficit to 68-66.
After Spivy sunk two more free throws, Allen nailed a three-pointer for the Mammoths. His bucket made the score 70-69 with 13 seconds remaining. Amherst forced a turnover out of the inbound, but Robinson missed a potential game-winning jump shot with six seconds left.
Feinberg grabbed the rebound off the miss and was immediately fouled. He converted both free throws, and Amherst was unable to hit a game-tying three at the buzzer.
Karpowicz led the way with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists. "I thought today, he led the team," App said of his senior center. "He commanded attention, he asserted himself at different stages of the game, and while he was doing that on offensive he was competing at a high level defensively."
Since December 7th, Karpowicz has been on a tear. Over his last seven games, he has scored 29, 16, 18, 22, 19, 12, and 21. He has been extremely efficient during this span, shooting an incredible 59-83 (71%) across the seven games. "As talented as Karpowicz is, he keeps improving and getting better — and that's to his credit. He's taken on what we have asked of him, and we've always known he can be a dominant offensive scorer," App continued.
Free throw shooting propelled the Ephs down the stretch, as they shot 18-21 (86%) as a team this afternoon. They were 25-46 (54%) from the field.
Spivy (19), Jones (12), and Feinberg (10) also reached double-digits for the Ephs.
For Amherst, Sellew scored a game high 22, while Che and Allen each added 17. The Mammoths shot 27-65 (41%) from the field, and 10-29 (39%) from long range.
The Ephs next play at St. Joseph on Tuesday, January 14 at 7 p.m., before two home NESCAC matchups against Bowdoin and Colby next weekend.
"Going forward, I think the first step is to keep improving," said App. "In our three games this week, we really ramped up our competitiveness, and I think that's why you saw more consistency and really high level basketball. The more guys that play with confidence, the better. Each game, more guys have been playing with confidence together, whereas the first semester it was maybe one or two guys. We have to keep building on that collective confidence."