To kick off their tournament run, the Jeffs went up against Skidmore College in the first round. Amherst started slow, hitting on only one of its first 12 field goal attempts, and the team found itself down 7-2 after five minutes of play. Then the Jeffs found some rhythm, shooting over 50 percent for the next 15 minutes and sparking a 24-4 run. At the half, the Jeffs held a commanding 18-point lead, with a 38-20 margin. From that point on, the game was a blowout, as the Thoroughbreds didn’t come closer than 21 points. While the Jeffs racked up 79 points in the final tally, the key to the game was their stifling defense, as they only allowed Skidmore a mere 39 points and held the Thoroughbreds to a poor 26.3 percent mark from the field.
Co-captain Conor Meehan ’11 spurred on the Jeffs with a double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Taylor Barrise ’12 and Aaron Toomey ’14 also hit double figures in scoring, with Toomey leading the way with 16 points. In addition, the Jeffs dominated the boards, outrebounding Skidmore 56-28.
Meehan and his crew came ready to play the next day as well, as they faced off against host WPI. The game was close for the majority of the first half, but the Jeffs used an 18-1 tear to pull away. At the break, Amherst held a huge 48-20 lead. However, as the NESCAC game against Middlebury showed, leads have a tendency to disappear quickly if teams take their foot off the gas pedal. WPI made some halftime adjustments and came out with a strong full court press that bewildered the Jeffs. In a span of five short minutes, the 28 point lead was cut to 10, as the score stood at 56-46. While the Crimson and Gray didn’t get any closer, and eventually faltered to the Jeffs by a 92-70 mark, their comeback made the game interesting in the second half.
Meehan posted another double-double, dropping 20 points to go along with 10 assists and six rebounds. Afterwards, however, he said that “we definitely have to do a much better job of closing games.” He got strong support from Barrise and David Waller ’12, who scored 18 and 17, respectively. Toomey also made his mark off the bench with 15 points. Center Pete Kaasila ’13 was a force in the paint as well. Although the sophomore only scored nine points, he had a game-best 12 rebounds and also blocked three shots.
With the pair of wins, the Jeffs advance to the Sweet 16 and will take on Rhode Island College at a site yet to be determined next Friday. With a pair of wins next weekend, Amherst can advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2008. Meehan has plenty of confidence that the team can pull through, saying that “we believe we’re good enough to win a national championship, and we’re working hard every day to achieve that goal.” With the Jeffs looking like the team that ripped off 21 wins in a row to start the season, their chances to make a deep run look strong.