Men's basketball locks up Little III title: Jeffs hold a tie for the lead in NESCAC behind dominant

The squad began the second part of their season with a win against Averett College on Jan. 2. The Jeffs traveled to Virginia for the contest, and Pat Fitzsimmons ’03 proved to be too much for the home team. Fitzsimmons poured in a game-high 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as the Jeffs romped to a 94-80 win.

After that impressive start to their Interterm schedule, the Jeffs have added seven more wins to their already impressive pre-Interterm record of 5-1.

In their second game of the new year, Amherst beat Western New England College, a team that had given them trouble in the first round of the NCAAs last season. This time around, the tight Jeff defense kept Amherst leading by at least 10 points for the entire second half. The Jeffs held WNEC’s leading scorer from last year’s contest, Lew Larrabee, scoreless.

The Amherst men went on the road to play rival Williams College on Jan. 13 and faced a huge Eph home crowd, as well as tough competition. The first half of the game was close, but at halftime the Jeffs held a four-point lead. Co-captain Brian Daoust ’01 was the offensive spark, leading the team at the end of the first half with 16 of his game-high 27 points.

Steve Zieja ’03 also turned in an impressive performance adding 18 points and nine rebounds. Daoust and Zieja have been the most consistent offensive weapons for the Jeffs.

“Brian and Steve both step it up when we need them most,” said Ryan Faulkner ’03.

Daoust and Zieja lead the Jeffs in points per game, with each scoring 18.6 per contest, and Zieja also leads the Jeffs in rebounds with 9.7 per game. Faulkner is the team leader in assists, averaging 5.5 per game.

With 10 minutes left in the second half, the Jeffs made a game-breaking 19-6 run, and they eventually won 73-64.

On Jan. 19 the Jeffs again emerged triumphant from a battle with the Ephs, this time turning up the defense to win 59-57.

Both teams came out slowly, and after a lackluster display of shooting in the first half, the score was tied at 22. In the second half, the Ephs clamped down on defense and held the Jeffs without a basket for the first eight minutes of the half. At the same time the Ephs found some offensive consistency, and prospects looked bleak for the Jeffs. The Jeffs trailed by as many as 12 points in the final period of play.

Behind the strong play of Zieja and the eventual game-winning basket from Daoust the Jeffs fought back. Zieja led the Jeffs with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Daoust added the eventual game-winning shot, leading the Jeffs to an improbable victory.

For the game, the Jeffs made 23 of their 30 free throw attempts, while Williams was only able to hit nine of their 20 attempts.

With the win the Jeffs took the season series from the Ephs and they also secured the outright Little III title. The current senior class has never lost at home to Williams.

On the road at Wesleyan University, Amherst was led by a contingent of backcourt players. The first half was close, but Amherst broke it open in the second half and ended up winning 93-77.

John Donovan ’04 had a career-high 18 points and was four for four from the free throw line. Daoust was seven for seven fom the line and finished with 23 points. Faulkner was the third guard in double digits with 10 points.

Middlebury College ended the Jeffs’ winning streak, handing them their second loss of the season and their first NESCAC loss. Middlebury opened the game up with three quick three-pointers, sparking 65 percent shooting from beyond the arc for the entire game. By halftime, the Panthers led by 12 points and they kept their double- digit lead for most of the second half.

“The Middlebury game was a bit of a surprise because they used such a small line up and shot incredibly,” said Chris Keane ’02.

Pat Taverna ’02 contributed a season-high 11 points off the bench for the Jeffs, and Zieja had a career-high 29 points.

The Jeffs rebounded against Bates College. Amherst shot well throughout the game, and jumped to a 10-point lead in the first 20 minutes.

Bates came to within four points with two minutes left in the game, but Amherst clinched the win by sinking seven out of nine foul shots to close out the game.

While Amherst beat Bates on the strength of their outside shooting, the Jeffs beat the Jumbos of Tufts University behind their strong play in the paint.

Although the Jeffs struggled from behind the three-point line, their inside game dominated. Both Zieja and Fitzsimmons played well. Zieja scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Fitzsimmons had 13 points, 21 boards and five blocked shots.

Once the halftime tie was broken Amherst gained the lead for good with 12 minutes left. Daoust’s free throws in the final minutes sealed the victory for the Jeffs. Adam Harper ’04 also contributed with four steals and great defense from the shooting guard spot.

January was a productive month for the Jeffs, as they improved their record to 12-2 and took hold of a share of first place in the NESCAC. They share the top ranking with Colby and Trinity Colleges, but the tie will soon be broken as Amherst meets Trinity on Feb. 3 in Hartford.