After a roaring start, men’s basketball has dropped four of its last six contests.
Amherst began the 2019-2020 season with a 9-2 record and a Ken Wright Invitational tournament championship victory over Fitchburg State. The Mammoths secured several marquee wins, including a home thriller vs. Springfield and a 116-point thrashing of Lesley to cap off the streak.
However, once Amherst hit NESCAC play, the season took a turn for the worst. The Mammoths blew a seven-point halftime lead at Wesleyan, losing by just one score. Amherst then suffered a substantial loss at Tufts; yet this 16-point defeat is a season high mark.
The toughest part of the skid might be dropping both games against rival Williams. In what was a consistently close-fought matchup, the Mammoths ultimately were unable to overcome the Ephs, who won with a score of 62-60.
Amherst started the game well, pulling out to an early 12-2 lead due to Grant Robinson ’21 and Michael Schretter ’22 combining for nine points.
Williams was unable to get on the board for almost four full minutes, registering its first basket three minutes and 40 seconds into the first half.
Garrett Day ’21 then scored eight consecutive points for the Mammoths, putting Amherst up 23-9 with more than half the first half left to play.
However, the Ephs soon came charging back due to a combination of timely shooting and clamping down on defense. Williams was able to cut the lead to just six points heading into halftime, despite the Mammoths holding a double-digit advantage for the majority of the half.
The Ephs started the second half strong, cutting the lead to just a single point after a layup, and a three made the score 34-33. The Mammoths and the Ephs then traded buckets, until the Ephs used their superior three-point shooting and began edging ahead.
By the end of the second half, the two squads remained knotted within two points of one another. With just over 20 seconds remaining, Day hit a pair of free throws to make the score 60-58 in favor of Williams. Williams then scored a quick bucket, making the score 62-58 with 18 seconds left to play. Robinson then scored quickly, but then the Mammoths fouled. Williams, being in the bonus, had a one and one.
The Ephs missed the first free throw, and with eight seconds left in regulation, the Mammoths drove the ball quickly back up the court and got a shot off before the buzzer. Unfortunately, Amherst did not hit the shot and fell to Williams in a heartbreaking 62-60.
While the game was close, the Mammoths let an uncharacteristically high number of opportunities slip through their fingers during the contest. Williams turned the ball over 13 times on the game, yet Amherst was only able to score points off three of these turnovers. By comparison, the Ephs had 22 points off 16 Amherst turnovers.
Additionally, the Williams defense was incredibly effective at shutting down the ball movement and game flow of Amherst. As a team, the Mammoths have averaged more than 18 assists per game; against Williams, the team was held to just seven.
With the loss, the Mammoths dropped to 11-6 on the season, while Williams improved to 9-8 on the season. Since the start of conference play on Jan. 7, the Mammoths have struggled, winning only two of the six games against NESCAC rivals.
Despite the disappointing beginning to conference play, the Mammoths have plenty of reasons to believe the season will reverse course. Amherst’s two wins from the past six games are against Bates and Middlebury, who both sit in the top half of the NESCAC. Five of their next seven contests will take place in Lefrak Gymnasium, including key conference matchups against Hamilton, Wesleyan, Trinity and Connecticut College. Amherst is currently tied for No. 4 in the NESCAC standings and still received a vote for the DIII top-25 rankings poll, despite the team’s recent slide.
To add some statistical bright spots, the Mammoths are first in the NESCAC in three-point percentage (41.1), second in field goal percentage (47.1) and second in assists (18.2). Moreover, Amherst has given up the fewest points per game in the NESCAC (65.6).
The Mammoths are led by a dominant front court of Eric Sellew ’20 and Fru Che ’21, who both have scored 13.4 points per game.
Additionally, Day has averaged 2.5 three-pointers per game at a clip of 44.7 percent, providing a spark off the bench for Amherst.
These positive indicators were on full display against Hamilton last Saturday, as the Mammoths snapped their losing skid with a victory over the Continentals, winning 76-69.
Turnovers continued to be a problem for the Amherst squad, as the team squandered 12 possessions. However, contrary to the game against Williams, the Mammoths only allowed 11 points off of these giveaways.
Robinson was the leading scorer, registering 18 on the day to go along with his three assists; however, the bench again proved to be a source of strength for the Mammoths, as the reserves contributed 25 points, with Day standing out, draining 11 points and pulling down four rebounds.
The Mammoths return to action Jan. 29, in their final non-conference matchup against the Salem State University Vikings before a raft of five conference contests to finish out the season.