In the third and most important matchup of the year between men’s basketball and Amherst, the Ephs (17-9, 6-4 in the NESCAC) came out on the losing end of an 86-74 decision. Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal loss effectively ends the season for Williams, who clinched the Little Three title with a win over Amherst several weeks earlier.
With the win, Amherst earned its eighth trip to the NESCAC championship in the tournament’s nine-year history. The Jeffs, however, proved incapable of toppling the red-hot Middlebury Panthers (8-1, 24-3), and the Panthers beat down the Jeffs 77-68 to take their first NESCAC title.
Tied at 31 going into the break, the No. 2 Jeffs exploded in the second half, outscoring the third seeded Ephs 55-43 to run away with the game on Middlebury’s home court. After opening the period on a 16-8 run, Amherst shot 57.7 percent from the floor over the last 20 minutes while holding Williams to 42 percent in the second.
In the early going, the two teams remained close, although Williams maintained the lead for most of the period. At 8:20, co-captain Kevin Snyder ’09 gave the Ephs a 20-15 lead on a lay-up. After Amherst brought the score to 20-19, Snyder hit consecutive shots to widen the Williams lead to five once more.
With just over three minutes left in the half, Williams led 29-25. It was the last lead the Ephs would have before the Jeffs took charge.
Amherst’s Connor Meehan led the Jeff charge in the second half. The sophomore point guard scored 16 of his 26 points in the second, finishing 8-of-18 from the floor. He also pulled down seven rebounds.
Williams’ answer to Meehan came in the form of Blake Schultz ’10 and Snyder. As he’d been doing all year, Schultz put up big numbers for the Ephs, scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds.
For his part, Snyder had a banner performance. Needing only one bucket to reach the prestigious 1000-point plateau going into Saturday’s game, Snyder scored 18 to become the 26th player in Williams history to hit the mark.
The 16-8 Amherst run that opened the second period put Williams back on its heels. “I think the decisive moment was the first few minutes of the second half,” Snyder said. “They were able to convert on their first few possessions, and we didn’t respond with scores of our own or defensive stops.”
Still, the Ephs stayed competitive through much of the half, coming within three halfway through the period. A James Wang ’12 lay-up brought the score to 54-51, and although Meehan responded with a bucket for the Jeffs, Snyder quickly closed the gap when he sank a jumper on Williams’ next possession.
The Ephs stayed within four until almost the eight minute mark, before Amherst sparked another rally. A 12-4 run carried Amherst to a 12-point lead with only five minutes remaining. The men did their best to pare the Jeff lead but never really found their way back into the game, as Amherst came away with the win and a chance to play for the NESCAC title on Sunday.
“Amherst did a great job of adjusting to the way we played them previously,” Snyder said. “On top of that, they simply knocked down their open looks. You have to give them credit for making shots all game.”
On the season, Schultz led the Ephs in both rebounds and points. He ended the season with 169 rebounds and an average of 18 points per game. Snyder was second with 105 rebounds and 16.8 points per game.
Reflecting on the season, Snyder tipped his hat to his teammates. “It was a very memorable season, and this team is made up of a truly special group of guys, and I will miss playing with them very much,” he said.