Amherst would not stay down for long, however, as the following day the team traveled to Bates College and delivered some punishment of its own, crushing what was then the top team in the NESCAC by a tally of 90-60. “When we think our backs are to the wall, we get razor sharp,” said Head Coach Dave Hixon ’75.
With the win over Bates, Amherst regained control of the NESCAC. If the Jeffs win their final three conference games they will earn the privilege of hosting the NESCAC Tournament later this month.
Also during the win, tri-captain Steve Zieja ’03 was able to eclipse Jamal Wilson ’97 as Amherst’s all-time scoring leader.
Although their 9-9 record this season is far from impressive, the Jumbos were just that on their home court Friday night.
Tufts never trailed in the game and shot a solid 54.7 percent from the floor while holding Amherst to a dismal 31.5 percent showing.
Despite Amherst’s less-than spectacular play, the game was still close at the half as the visitors trailed by just a six-point margin.
But Tufts was able to put the game out of reach shortly after intermission courtesy of a 13-2 run to start the half. The Jumbos maintained a double-digit lead for the rest of the ballgame and cruised to victory.
“It’s not that we weren’t trying,” said Hixon. “But sometimes when you start off so poorly the harder you try the worse it gets.”
Zieja led the Lord Jeffs with 22 points, while Reggie Stovell paced the Jumbos with 20 of his own including a thunderous dunk at the end of the game to put the exclamation mark on Tufts’ emphatic win.
The next day Amherst’s grueling road trip continued with a stop in Lewiston, Maine to take on the Bates Bobcats. Although Bates has improved greatly since its dismal 1-8 NESCAC performance of only a year ago and is currently a legitimate conference power, they proved no match for the highly motivated Amherst squad.
After a standstill early on, the Jeffs engineered a 16-0 run at the end of the first half to break the deadlock and take a 42-30 lead at the midway point of the game. Amherst built on its lead in the final half of play en route to a convincing 90-60 victory.
The key to Amherst’s victory was a renewed vigor on defense. Bates’ leading scorer, C.J. Neely, did not register a single field goal the entire game and the Lord Jeffs forced 22 turnovers from their opposition.
Junior guard John Donovan came off a poor shooting performance against Tufts to lead Amherst in scoring with 22 points. Sophomore Andrew Schiel nearly notched a double-double, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds. Harper and Zieja also finished with in double-digit scoring figures.
Amherst will play only one game this week, traveling to Hartford, Conn. to take on the defending regular season NESCAC Champions, Trinity College, in their last away game of the regular-season.
Although the Bantams lost last year’s NESCAC Player of the Year, Colin Tabb, to graduation, at 12-6 this season they still boast a very formidable team.
Amherst and Trinity played each other twice last season and both encounters produced drama and quality basketball. Trinity defeated Amherst 110-107 in a thrilling triple overtime game at LeFrak Gymnasium in the two teams’ only regular-season meeting before Amherst returned the favor a couple of weeks later by besting Trinity 85-78 in the NESCAC Championship game played on the Bantams’ home court.
Statistically, Trinity is the strongest team remaining on Amherst’s NESCAC slate, so if the Lord Jeffs can come away from Connecticut with a win, they should be feeling good about their chances of winning the regular season NESCAC crown.