Men’s basketball (18–7, 5–5 in the NESCAC) upset No. 3 seed Amherst on Saturday to earn a spot in the NESCAC semifinals. After a closely-contested first half, the men took control in the second, overcoming a late Amherst rally to prevail 76-69 on the road.
At LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst, Mass., the archrivals met for the 221st time in history. A packed crowd held fans of both teams, and the spectators were spirited from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Amherst, ranked No. 18 in the nation, made two 3-pointers to jump out to an early lead, but the men soon equalized with long balls by Bobby Casey ’19 and James Heskett ’19. Williams briefly took the lead, but Amherst recovered in spectacular fashion with three consecutive 3-pointers. A Matt Karpowicz ’20 dunk momentarily halted the run but another Amherst three put the home team up by four. Five of Amherst’s first six baskets were 3-pointers.
With 8:39 left in the half, the Ephs answered with a 10-0 run of their own. Kyle Scadlock ’19 came up with a steal and threw down a transition dunk to start the scoring spree. Heskett and tri-captain Daniel Aronowitz ’17 then hit back-to-back threes, and a basket by Aronowitz gave the men a 26-20 lead.
Amherst forward David George broke the run with a tip-in, and guard Jayde Dawson tied the game with 3:40 left, draining a three-pointer and a foul shot. The teams remained deadlocked until Aronowitz converted a three-point play in the final minute of the half to give the men a 31-30 lead at the break.
The first half saw five lead changes. Amherst’s offense relied on success from behind the arc, shooting an impressive 50 percent from long distance in the half.
The first eight minutes of the second half transpired in the same manner as the first half. For the first six minutes of the half, the two teams traded one-point leads, apart from a 21-second interval during which Amherst held a two-point lead. Chris Galvin ’18 hit a 3-pointer with 13:50 to play, giving the men a 43-41 lead. Casey and Amherst’s Eric Conklin traded layups to bring the score to 45-43.
With 11:27 left, however, the Ephs started to pull away.
Scadlock kicked off the run with a reverse layup following a nice cut to the basket. A mixup in the Amherst defense on the next possession left Scadlock all alone at the top of the key, and he sank the open three, giving the men a seven-point lead, the largest held by either team at that point.
Scadlock was not done. He blocked Johnny McCarthy’s 3-point try and converted a tough second-chance bucket at the other end to make the score 52-43. Not to be outdone, Aronowitz nailed a 3-pointer on the next possession before Cole Teal ’18 sank a jumper from several feet behind the arc to invigorate the Williams fans. Two foul shots by Scadlock set the score at 60-43.
In five minutes, the Ephs had put up 15 unanswered points, nine of which came from Scadlock.
The men cooled off significantly after the run, but Amherst could not take advantage; the teams combined for four points over the next three minutes. Finally, Amherst made a layup to end its eight-minute scoring drought.
With 2:15 to play, Amherst began intentionally fouling to buy time, executing this strategy with remarkable success. Amherst guard Reid Berman sank consecutive threes, and a Dawson layup brought the deficit to just seven. However, tri-captain Mike Greenman ’17 converted six free throws in the late minutes to bring the lead back to double digits. Two Amherst threes in the final 30 seconds cut the final deficit to just seven, but the men left the court with the 76-69 victory.
App was thrilled with Saturday’s result. “The guys played with tremendous confidence and effort for the entire 40 minutes,” he said. “For the first time this year, we didn’t let the pressure hurt us but instead embraced it. Our crowd was unbelievable, the game was high level and the team performed. I couldn’t be more proud.”
On the game, Amherst shot 36.9 percent for the field and
39.4 percent from beyond the arc. The Ephs finished with a 47.2 percent mark from the field and 36 percent from deep.
Aronowitz led all scorers with 22 points, moving to 19th all-time in program history. His eight rebounds also tied for the game high. Scadlock, the engine of the Ephs’ game-breaking run, finished with 16 points.
McCarthy led Amherst in points with 15, and Dawson, the NESCAC’s second-leading scorer, had 14.
The men lost four of their first five games in conference play, but they have won six of their last eight, starting with a Jan. 22 win over No. 10 Middlebury.
“We’ve been playing with high confidence and focus since the Middlebury game,” Aronowitz said. “If we stick to what has been working – playing freely and with confidence – we can beat anyone.”
Saturday’s win was the men’s first NESCAC tournament victory over Amherst since 2007. Amherst defeated Williams in the 2013 and 2014 NESCAC finals and had won the past five meetings. The Ephs now lead 120-101 in the all-time series.
In the semifinals, the men will face top seed Tufts, who defeated Hamilton handily in the quarterfinals. The No. 13 Jumbos beat the Ephs by 25 points in the final weekend of the regular season.
The rematch will take place at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Medford, Mass., with the tournament final the following day.