Men’s basketball (11-1) suffered its first defeat of the season against Amherst in a game chock full of intensity and emotion, complete with fevered highs and blood-chilling lows. Unfortunately, a nightmare finish for the Ephs forced elation to give way to despair as Saturday night’s contest saw Williams fall to Amherst in overtime, by a count of 72-70.
Amherst center Pat Fitzsimmons redirected a wild shot into the net with five seconds left in the extra period to put the Lord Jeffs up one, and a controversial traveling call on Williams on the subsequent inbound allowed Amherst to tack on another free throw and emerge with a stunning two-point victory.
The loss was the first of the year for the previously undefeated Ephs, who have now lost to Amherst in each of the last four meetings.
Overtime is always a tense affair, but the sequence of events in the last 30 seconds of the contest was enough to leave Ephs fans speechless. Williams had gone up 69-64 with 2:17 remaining in the first overtime period on the strength of a pair of shots by Tim Folan ’03, but Amherst had managed to cut the deficit to two with 1:39 remaining.
The score remained unchanged until the 30-second mark, when point guard Mike Crotty ’04 hit one of two free throws. An alley-oop dunk by Fitzsimmons cut the Williams lead to one with 15 seconds remaining, but a pair of missed free throws from Folan allowed Amherst another chance, and the tip-in was the result. It was, amazingly, the only offensive rebound of the night for Amherst.
Folan was then called for traveling on the inbound play despite substantial contact from Amherst’s John Donovan, and the Ephs were forced to foul. Amherst’s Adam Harper sank one of two from the stripe, and with two seconds left on the clock, Williams was in desperate need of a miracle. It almost happened, too ? a gorgeous inbounds pass from first-year sub Andy Campell ’05 found an open man in the Ephs’ star center and co-captain Drew DeMuth ’03, whose shot from the left baseline rimmed out at the buzzer. Adding insult to injury, DeMuth was then nearly trampled by Amherst fans storming the court.
It was a disappointing finish for Folan, who was, with 25 points, the high-scorer in the contest. Folan had come up big for Williams at every point in the game, with his one-man five-point OT run a duplication of the five-point run with which he began the second half. Folan converted on six of 10 free throws on the evening, shooting eight of 17 from the floor.
Williams had trailed 30-23 at halftime, mostly due to an early surge from Amherst. The Lord Jeffs ran out to a 19-4 lead midway through the first period, but Williams came charging back on the heels of a 9-0 run which culminated in a floating jumper from Jaris Cole ’05.
“What killed us was the first ten minutes,” said DeMuth. “We fell behind big in the early going and we had to spend the rest of the game playing catch up, really, which is a tough way to play.”
Amherst closed out the half with a three-pointer from Ryan Faulkner, but the momentum had shifted to the Ephs’ corner, and Williams closed the gap considerably immediately following the intermission. A pair of free throws from DeMuth, who had yet another monster game with 19 points and 16 boards, tied the game at 44 with 11:34 gone in the second half, and a jumper from Chuck Abba ’04 a minute later gave Williams their first lead of the night.
The lead changed hands several times afterwards, but with 32 seconds left and the score knotted at 62, Amherst’s Steve Zieja missed badly on a long-range effort, and Williams had a chance to win it. The shot clock was turned off for Crotty, who had converted his last shot with a beautiful up-and-under move. Crotty finished with 16 points on the game, but could not get his attempted winner to fall, as the ball rolled out of the cylinder and the game was sent into the overtime period that the Ephs would not close out on the winning end.
Redemption, however, is near at hand. The next game for Williams is today, as the Ephs go on the road to take on the Continentals of Hamilton College. However, this Friday provides the perfect opportunity for revenge, as Chandler Gymnasium will host the rematch between Williams and Amherst at 8 p.m.
“I think we’re just going to use this loss as motivation,” DeMuth said. “We’ve just got to regroup and move on, we have to remember that we didn’t play badly, we just came up short ? we’ll use the same game plan and everything.”
Earlier in the season, stingy team defense proved the key to the team’s 65-57 triumph over Little Three rival Wesleyan. The Cardinals came into the game averaging 90 points per game, but could only manage 57 against a strong defensive effort out of the Ephs.
Standouts within the strong team effort were Abba and Cole, who combined to limit Wesleyan leading scorer Leo Jones to 10 points. Jones, a preseason third-team all-American selection, came into tonight’s contest shooting 59.5 percent from the field, but was shut down by the combined canniness of the Ephs’ guards and could only manage a night of 4-14 shooting. Coach Dave Paulsen praised his team’s effort, saying, “they came in averaging about 90 points, but we just did a great job on defense.”
Offensively, the Ephs were led by the power and poise of DeMuth, whose 21 points came on eight-for-14 shooting, and included eight offensive rebounds. Crotty came through with a solid performance as well, tacking on seven assists, 11 points and four rebounds. Folan tallied 13 points of his own to round out the scoring for Williams.
The game seemed to turn at the beginning of the second half, when the combined efforts of DeMuth and Ben Coffin ’04 allowed the Ephs’ to stretch their seven-point halftime lead into 20. For the game, Coffin matched his seven rebounds with seven points, many of which came in the first 4:20 of the half, opening up a lead that Williams would not relinquish. Solid free-throw down the stretch from Crotty and Folan sealed the win for the Ephs.
Shortly after Winter Study commenced, the Ephs captured the championship at the Purple and Gold Tournament after posting victories over Misericordia and Southern Vermont. DeMuth scored 22 points and pulled in 12 rebounds in a 76-53 blowout of Misericordia in the title game. In Williams’ qualifying game the previous night against Southern Vermont, the Ephs managed a 77-69 victory.
Misericordia came out of the gate strong, taking a 7-2 lead early in the contest. Coach Paulsen called a time out to rally his troops. From that point on, the Ephs hit shot after shot after shot ? Williams shot 56 percent from the field in the first half and six-for-12 from behind the arc.
Misericordia was doomed by the strong shooting of the Ephs and the vanishing act pulled by NBA prospect Willie Chandler. Chandler scored 34 points in the team’s first game of the tournament against Cortland the previous evening, but shot a paltry 1-of-11 from the field in the first half. Williams essentially had the game in the bag by half time, leading 44-22.
The second half provided few surprises. Williams rested on the laurels of its strong first half and coasted to a 76-53 victory. DeMuth was the leading scorer with 22. Crotty scored 11 points on four of seven shooting, including three from three-point range.
All-Tournament guard Cole tu
rned in an inspiring effort, netting 10 points and adding six assists. Folan scored eight with six rebounds and two assists to complement his 25 from the previous night.