When Amherst point guard Garrett Day airballed a 3-point attempt midway through the first quarter in Chandler Gymnasium on Friday night, the student section – not missing the chance to get involved in a high-stakes rivalry game – erupted into a raucous, frenzied chant.
“Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!”
The refrain followed Day for the rest of the night as the student section roared back to life every time he touched the ball.
Yet in the second half, when the No. 19 Mammoths pulled off a 20-2 run and took a commanding 14-point lead over the No. 10 Ephs (19–5, 6–4 in the NESCAC), the cheers began to ring hollow, more wishful thinking than effective gamesmanship from the home crowd.
Although the men climbed back into the game and narrowed the deficit to three points twice in the final minute, none other than Day stepped calmly to the foul line and buried two free throws with nine seconds left to sink the Ephs.
Amherst prevailed by a score of 84-79.
“I think [the Mammoths] ramped up their physicality,” Eph head coach Kevin App said postgame. “They played a lot harder in the second half [than in the first half].”
The 20-2 stretch for the Mammoths midway through the second half was all the more unnerving for the home fans because of how the contest started. The Ephs raced out to a 13-6 lead in the first six minutes, powered by a key steal and two driving layups from Kyle Scadlock ’19.
While Amherst steadily clawed back into the game, the men maintained a lead throughout the first half. James Heskett ’19 connected on his first two 3-point attempts and, after going scoreless in the first 15 minutes, Bobby Casey ’19 came alive at the end of the period.
Casey scored 10 of the last 12 Eph points of the first half, ensuring that the men took a 40-35 lead into the locker room.
Coming out of the halftime break, Casey continued his scoring outburst, banking a layup high off the glass to extend the advantage to seven points. That lead, however, marked the beginning of the end for the Ephs.
Amherst dominated the next 15 minutes of the game. As part of their 20-2 run, forward Eric Sewell scored three sraight baskets for the Mammoths to take the lead.
Yet Casey brought the team back to life when he completed a 3-point play with 3:32 remaining in the game. Casey’s foul shot narrowed the score to 69-61.
The home team did not take advantage of the opportunity, however. Missed 3-point attempts from Casey and Heskett, followed by a wide-open corner 3 from forward Grant Robinson on the other end, likely ended the best chance at a comeback for the Ephs.
Shortly thereafter, Heskett left the game after suffering an apparent injury and did not return to play.
Down 12 points with only 1:20 left in the game, the men miraculously gave themselves one final chance. Henry Feinberg ’20 netted two corner 3s, Scadlock converted a 3-point play and Casey knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing.
The men had narrowed the score to 79-76, a one-possession game, with 21 seconds to go.
As the student section jumped and screamed, Amherst struggled to inbound the ball, eventually sending a long pass over the top to Robinson. Immediately fouled, Robinson split a pair of free throws.
Although Casey missed a contested 3 and Robinson responded with two more free throws, the Ephs again reduced the Mammoth advantage to three points with nine seconds left. A dribble handoff from Scadlock gave Casey the space to drain his fifth 3-pointer of the night.
With the scoreboard reading 82-79, Day, the object of the unrelenting “air ball” chants, collected the final two points of the night from the foul line.
With regard to potential takeaways from the loss, App reflected, “We’ll find out. In the heat of it, [I’m] proud of how hard the guys competed and I’m sure we’ll look at the film and have to do some things, tighten some things up, like always.”
“It’s a great atmosphere, great environment,” he said. “So you take that as a fun Williams-Amherst game and then you let it go and come out tomorrow and compete.”