It wasn’t supposed to be this easy, not against Amherst.
In their conference opener, in a same-week rematch against archrival Amherst (10-4; 0-2 in the NESCAC) following a heart-breaking, last-second 72-70 defeat in overtime, in a gym bursting with pressure, they never expected this.
Powered by a lightning-quick start, tremendous shooting and stifling defense, men’s basketball (13-2; 2-0) dominated the Lord Jeffs en route to a 74-45 victory.
The stunning victory, the first over Amherst for head coach Dave Paulsen, followed closely on the heels of last Saturday’s nail-biter, giving players and fans alike every reason to believe that this contest would be similar. Instead, the Ephs had the better of the play in all aspects of the game, out-shooting and out-rebounding the Lord Jeffs consistently.
Co-captain Drew DeMuth ’03 personified the outstanding Williams effort, with an amazing 17 rebounds in the contest, many on the offensive end. DeMuth was fierce throughout the contest, baring his teeth to the overwhelmed Amherst forwards and stoking up the partisan crowd of 1,757 in attendance at Chandler Gym. He also added a game-high 20 points.
A match for DeMuth’s intensity was to be found in the Williams backcourt, in the form of point guard and catalyst Mike Crotty ’04. Crotty’s numbers for the game â€“ 14 points and four assists â€“ fail to tell the entire story, as his influence was seen all over the court. Aside from draining several crucial three-pointers and exhibiting flawless ball handling, Crotty was able to team with Chuck Abba ’04 in playing air-tight perimeter defense, shutting down the vaunted Amherst guards.
That defense proved to be the key to the contest, as Williams was able to open up the game with a 17-7 run. With the Jeffs trailing early, the Ephs locked on the clamps, limiting Amherst to six of 24 (25 percent) shooting on the half. Williams’ swarming defense was made possible by quicksilver Jaris Cole ’05, who came off the bench to coerce the opposition into turnovers and miscues.
Paulsen, who was deservedly pleased after the game, cited a strong team effort and complimented his players on their resiliency: “After two difficult losses, the guys really rebounded to show what they are made of.”
Williams was unable to run away with the contest in the first half, with Amherst keeping the game relatively close to the tune of an 11-point halftime deficit. The second half, however, saw that margin nearly triple, with the Ephs only allowing Amherst 10 points over the next 14:34.
The long-range game was key to Williams’ dominance in the second period, and indeed throughout the game. The Ephs shot a sizzling 10 for 21 from behind the arc on the evening, often with first-year marksmen pulling the trigger. Bombs from Cole and Jason Farkas ’05, along with an ice-cool pair from Tucker Kain ’05, helped establish an insurmountable lead for Williams.
The efforts of Kain especially confounded the Jeffs. Kain, a 6’5” forward from Waite Hill, OH, presented an unsolvable dilemma for Amherst in his ability to hit the long shot. With height mandating that he be guarded by the larger Amherst forwards, Pat Fitzsimons and Steve Zieja, Kain’s defenders were not able to over-pursue when he stepped outside. To say “step” is especially appropriate, as Kain’s second three-pointer of the night saw him collect the ball inside the arc, check his feet, step backwards, and calmly drain the trifecta, coolly and effectively sticking a nail in the Jeffs’ purple and white coffin.
Amherst’s only scorer in double figures was Zieja, who finished with 10 points on three for 15 shooting. Fitzsimons had eight boards to lead Amherst, who were out-rebounded 40 to 30 on the night.
In action earlier in the week, Williams suffered their second defeat of the season to an un-fancied Hamilton team, 79-76. The Continentals used hot shooting to overcome Williams’ defenders, highlighted by Kevin Yanni’s 19-point effort and two clutch free throws from Geoff Tomlinson with 15 seconds on the clock, which sealed the game for Hamilton.
A season-high 20 points from Crotty was not enough for Williams; the team was never quite able to rebound from a poor offensive first half in which they shot 37 percent from the field. The Ephs warmed up considerably in the second half, thanks to some solid long-range shooting from Crotty and co-captain Tim Folan ’03, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds on the night.
DeMuth chipped in a game-high 22 points and eight boards, but was unable to gain the upper hand in the paint. Hamilton held the advantage on the glass 43-33, led by seven rebounds from Noah Hammond, and the Continentals rode their superior margin to easy inside buckets and a surprising upset.
This Saturday saw the Ephs rekindle their winning streak, as they made it two in a row by downing Trinity, 85-75. Williams was led by the 22 points of co-captain Folan.
As is often the case, rebounding determined the outcome of the contest. The interior presence of DeMuth was sorely missed in the opening half, as the center fell victim to foul trouble, and was forced to retreat to the bench. Easy baskets in the paint were the result, as Bantams’ forward Ryan Uszenski was able to get to the glass early and set up the outside shot for his teammates, John Halas and pre-season all-American selection Colin Tabb.
Poor overall shooting would eventually doom Trinity, however, as the re-emergence of DeMuth denied them easy put-backs, and forced the Bantams to over rely on their first option, Tabb. The guard finished with 29 points, and Bryan Dion tacked on 23 more for Trinity, but Williams was able to master the interior, as reflected by DeMuth’s 13 rebounds. The Ephs out-rebounded Trinity 38-28 on the night.
The Ephs got off to a quick start in the second half thanks largely to Abba, who rattled off seven points to open up the game, and finished with 17. His backcourt mate Crotty accounted for 12 points and seven assists for the game, with five of those points coming on late free throws to seal the deal for Williams. With the win, the team wound up a hectic eight days with a record of 2-2, moving to 13-2 on the season.
After the game, Coach Paulsen was grateful for escaping a let-down after all of the pomp and circumstance of the previous night, but was quick to praise the opposition for a job well done: “Trinity is a very good team; even their guards are big physical players. That, plus their two starting forwards are really great players.”
With a wild week under their belts, the Ephs will be looking for some time to recuperate, and in this instance, the scheduling gods have come up big â€“ Williams will have six days off before their next contest. That game forces the Ephs to brave the wilds of Maine to play Colby and begins at 7 p.m. on Friday.