It was an excellent basketball weekend for Amherst as the Mammoths won both of their matchups to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016. Amherst had to travel more than five hours to get to the Palestra at the University of Rochester, the host for the first two rounds of the tournament. While the Mammoths’ rank would usually be high enough to earn them home-court advantage, the women’s team was granted hosting duties, so the men had to hit the road. Amherst made quick work of Rosemont College in the first round before Rochester, backed by rowdy fans, put them on upset watch in the second round. Some clutch free-throw shooting, however, helped the Mammoths secure the win.
Sophomore guard and first-team All-NESCAC selection Grant Robinson talked with The Student about not letting the road games impact their mentality.
“It was unfortunate because it’s always a special opportunity to play in front of our fans,” Robinson said. “At the same time, we knew we had been successful on the road so far this season, so we were confident.”
Robinson continued on to talk about the game plan going into their first-round game against Rosemont. “Against Rosemont, we knew they had a couple of talented guys who could score the ball really well, so we wanted to go in with the mindset of playing aggressively and physically defensively in order to shut those guys down.”
Robinson’s analysis was correct as Amherst played stifling defense from the tip-off, holding Rosemont to 27 percent from the field and limiting them to 53 points in total. Up by only eight at the half, the Mammoths outscored the Ravens 51-28 in a dominant second half. The leading scorer for Amherst was Fru Che ’21 with 18 points; he also added six rebounds. Robinson had a well-rounded stat line with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Eric Sellew ’20 recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards in just 18 minutes of playing time and Joseph Schneider ’19 contributed eight points, nine rebounds and a game-high three blocks. The 84-53 victory booked Amherst a date with the host, Rochester, the following day.
The stage was set for a high-profile second-round contest between the number seven Mammoths and the 23rd-ranked Yellowjackets. Robinson knew that the crowd would be a factor, but noted that the raucous atmosphere helped Amherst stay focused. “Rochester brought a great crowd, and even though we were on the road and their fans weren’t cheering for us, I think we fed off of the energy within the gym. We also had some fans make the trip so their support helped a lot as well,” he said.
Amherst parlayed a great all-around first half into an eight-point halftime lead. However, Rochester came out of the second half hot and eventually cut their deficit to just one with 10:32 remaining on the clock. Robinson explained that the Mammoths’ previous experiences with these situations was the key to holding on for the win.“I think as a team we stayed composed. We had been in positions like that before, so we wanted to continue to play our game. We know that basketball is a game of runs, so we were confident that if we maintained our focus, we would make our run also.”
Amherst’s free-throw shooting down the stretch helped put away the Yellowjackets once and for all. Amherst advanced to the 14th Sweet 16 in program history. The Mammoths had a balanced scoring attack as they have all season, led by Robinson’s 17 points and six boards. Che and Devonn Allen ’22 each scored 12 points and shot 11-13 from the free-throw line together. The 75-67 victory propelled Amherst to the second week of the tournament where they will face 14th-ranked Nichols College and a potential Elite 8 clash with sixth-ranked Swarthmore looming. When asked about whether this Mammoth team has what it takes to win it all, Robinson took a game-by-game approach.
“We just want to control what we can control,” Robinson said. “We believe that when we play with a chip on our shoulder and come out with an edge, we can beat anybody. It’s just a matter of playing with that mindset for every minute of every game.”
If there’s one thing to be sure of, it’s that reigning NESCAC Coach of the Year David Hixon ’75 will have Amherst prepared for any opponent.