A marquee matchup in the NESCAC men’s basketball quarterfinals between two of the oldest collegiate rivals in the country went down to the wire on Feb. 19, with the Williams Ephs barely outlasting the Mammoths in a 70-66 nailbiter.
After both teams had bypassed the first round of the tournament with a bye, the fifth-seed Mammoths faced off against the fourth-seed Ephs for the third time this season. The two teams held an even 1-1 season split against each other going into the match. Amherst entered boasting a 15-8 record, having defeated the Ephs in their first matchup 73-65 — handing Williams first loss of the season. The Ephs came in with a 15-3 record, having emerged victorious in their most recent matchup against the Mammoths.
The Ephs shot out of the gates following the opening tipoff, going on an 11-4 run in the first five minutes by capitalizing on multiple offensive rebounds and putbacks. Meanwhile, the Mammoths offense struggled early, missing seven of their first nine field goal attempts. Buoyed by back-to-back threes, Williams later extended their lead to 11 halfway through the first half. However, the Mammoths responded powerfully, scoring nine unanswered points in just over three minutes to bring the game to within just two points with 6:46 remaining in the frame. Amherst’s explosive run was led by senior captain Tim McCarthy’s ’22 five points and was helped along by four assists from fellow captain Grant Robinson ’22. As the first half came to a close, Williams’ early lead shrunk to just four points, with the score sitting at 31-27. Williams shot a remarkable 42 percent from three in the first half. Amherst kept pace with Williams’ shooting barrage by means of their superior work on the glass — outrebounding Williams 20-17 — and by forcing turnovers, collecting five steals in the first half alone.
The second half began in an eerily similar fashion to the first, with Williams going on an extended run spearheaded by an even diet of inside penetration and outside shooting. Conversely, the Mammoths struggled to maintain their offensive rhythm from the end of the first half, converting on just five of their first 15 shots. With 9:43 on the clock, the Ephs drilled back-to-back threes to take a commanding 52-39 lead midway through the second half.
Keeping with the theme of the first half, Amherst responded emphatically, orchestrating their most dominant stretch of the game. Starting with a made jumper by Garrett Day ’22 with 8:30 remaining in the game, the Mammoths put together a 13-1 run marked by two 3-pointers from McCarthy, along with relentless work on the glass by Ryker Vance ’25 en route to two offensive boards. On the other end of the floor, aside from one made free throw, the Mammoths held the Ephs scoreless for three and a half minutes, blending together their best stretch on both defense and offense. After McCarthy’s second 3-pointer in just over two minutes, the score sat at 53-52 with 5:10 remaining.
Following a made basket by Williams, a nifty layup by Day again brought the Mammoths within one point with 3:05 remaining. Foul trouble, however, would halt the Mammoths’ run, as the Ephs refused to relinquish their lead. Five consecutive fouls on the defensive end would prove costly – Williams would go on to convert nine of 10 free throws, extending their lead back out to nine points with 41 seconds left. Despite a valiant effort that brought the game back within two points with 18 seconds left, the Ephs continued to sink their crucial free throws until the clock wound down with the final score sitting at 70-66.
McCarthy paced the Mammoths’ offense with 14 points, while Vance and Day each tallied 12 points of their own. Vance stuffed the stat sheet further, recording an additional six rebounds and two blocks. Robinson totaled a team-high nine assists, in addition to a team-high (tied with Vance) six rebounds.
The Mammoths are now forced to wait and see if they are selected as one of 20 at-large bids among the 44 conference champions in the NCAA Division III Tournament. The tournament selections are expected to be announced on Feb. 28. Meanwhile, the Ephs will advance to the semifinal round of the NESCAC tournament to ultimately decide the conference champion.