Amherst wins 61-57, ruins Ephs’ bid for 15-0 start

Apparently number 15 just wasn’t meant to be.

The day after tying the school record for wins to start the season of 14, men’s basketball (14-1, 2-1 in the NESCAC) suffered the same fate as the 1955 Eph team whose record this year’s team tied – a loss to Amherst.

Amherst took the lead early and held on the rest of the way to defeat Williams 67-61 in front of a packed LeFrak Gymnasium crowd. The Ephs have not defeated the Lord Jeffs at Amherst since 1996.

“We had way too many defensive breakdowns,” Head Coach Dave Paulsen said. “We needed to pick up our defensive intensity and slow down offensively but we didn’t do that today.”

Tim Folan ’03 played an inspired game – connecting on three consecutive three-pointers at one point in the second half to bring the Ephs back into the game – leading all scorers on the afternoon with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

Adam Harper led the Jeffs with 15 points and seven boards. Steve Zieja, normally Amherst’s most dangerous player, contributed only 13 as he shot a woeful 3-of-10 from the floor.

Indeed, after building an early lead, Amherst never dominated the game, but rather hit just enough clutch shots to fend off all the Eph charges.

Amherst jumped out on top 23-6 early in the first half as its defense stifled an overly excited Eph offensive unit. Jaris Cole ’05 stuck a three-pointer four minutes into the game to make the score 10-6, but the Ephs would not notch another point for over seven minutes, allowing the Jeffs to build that early lead.

The Ephs would recover their poise in the final minutes of the first half, trimming what had been a 17-point Jeff advantage to merely seven. John Donovan hit a three from the left corner as time expired on the half, however, to blunt the momentum of the Ephs’ late charge.

Coming out of the half, Chuck Abba ’04 found his second of three steals on the day, but the Ephs wasted countless opportunities on the ensuing play.

First, Mike Crotty ’04, normally automatic shooting from anywhere on the court, missed a three. Ben Coffin ’04 hauled in the offensive board, setting up a three-point attempt for Abba, but this also failed to fall. Drew DeMuth ’04 got the ensuing offensive board, but he too failed to connect on a jumper.

The two teams proceeded to trade baskets for the first nine minutes of the second half, until Folan took charge. Though the 6’4″ senior tri-captain has seen his minutes curtailed this year due to a bad back, Folan was in top form behind the arc, bringing the Ephs back into the game on the strength of his long-range touch.

After blocking an Amherst shot at one end of the court, Folan nailed a three from the top of the key. On the Ephs’ ensuing possession, he connected again, this time from the left wing.

He scored on the third consecutive possession on a shot from six feet behind the three-point line that cut the Jeff lead to four and silenced the Jeff supporters.

With just over three minutes left on the clock, Abba came from out of nowhere to intercept Ray Corrigan’s pass and lay the ball in, cutting the Jeff lead to three.

With the momentum clearly in Williams’ favor, the sizeable Eph crowd drowned out the stunned Jeff faithful, until Harper stepped up and connected on a devastating three-pointer to give the Jeffs a six-point lead.

Though the Ephs won the first match-up between the two teams 74-65 a few weeks earlier in Williamstown, the dynamic of this game was changed by the return of Amherst center Pat Fitzsimons, who contributed 11 points, six boards and two blocks in Saturday’s effort.

The first time around, Eph big-men Coffin and DeMuth contributed 33 points on a combined 15-of-27 shooting. On Saturday, they tallied only 20 points and 14 shots.

“Ben Coffin only took seven shots, and he has to get the ball more than that,” Paulsen said. “We just didn’t understand the flow of the game today.”

To make matters worse, Eph sharpshooters Crotty and Abba were a combined 1-of-13 from three-point land; the two are shooting 41 percent on the season from behind the arc.

The night before, the Ephs beat Trinity 87-72. Crotty played a fantastic all-around game contributing 15 points, six boards and two steals from the point guard position. Most importantly, however, he fed his teammates 14 times, nearly single-handedly matching the Bantam assist count.

The Ephs will look to get back on the right track tonight with an opening tip against Mt. Ida College. The 3-11 Mustangs are on a bit of a dry spell, having lost their last seven games and nine of their last 10.

The Ephs will return to NESCAC action this weekend with home games against Bowdoin and Colby. Both teams are currently 1-3 in the NESCAC.