Although Amherst beat Wesleyan in the team’s two previous games this year, the Cardinals proved this weekend that they are capable of knocking off their Little Three rival.
On Jan. 13, Amherst routed Wesleyan by a 108-81 margin at LeFrak Gymnasium, and the Jeffs seemed well on their way to another easy win on Saturday as they amassed an imposing 53-29 advantage over their hosts at the half. Amherst shot a remarkable 10-14 from three-point range during the first half.
But Wesleyan rallied in the second half and went on a 15-0 run to start the final period of play. Amherst was able to maintain its double-digit lead for some time despite some poor shooting, but Wesleyan made another run with under 10 minutes remaining in the game. With 2:30 to play, Wesleyan’s Tim Holland connected on a three-pointer to put the Cardinals just three points and one possession away from leveling the score. Tri-captain John Donovan ’04 hit a three-pointer-one of just five second-half field goals made by Amherst-to give his team a little breathing room, but the Cardinals once again refused to go away and put themselves within one point, 78-77, with just four seconds remaining. Forced to foul, Wesleyan put John Bedford ’06 on the charity stripe, and the sophomore coolly responded by draining both shots, which finally sealed the 80-77 victory.
Amherst managed to stave off disaster despite shooting a dismal 20.8 percent from the field in the second half. Bedford led the Jeffs in scoring with 18 points coming off the bench.
The Jeffs had an easier game the previous night when they took on the Conn. College Camels. Conn entered the game with an 0-7 NESCAC mark and despite putting up some resistance in the first half, the Camels were simply unable to compete against the powerful Amherst team. Five Jeffs scored in double figures during the 103-68 shellacking, highlighted by tri-captain Tim Jones ’04. Jones finished with a career-high 21 points on 9-10 shooting from the field.
Jones’ emergence this year as a legitimate scoring threat has been quite an addition to an already potent Jeff attack. Buried in previous years behind All-American Steve Zieja ’03 and Pat Fitzsimons ’03, Jones was always known to be a solid defender in the paint, but has made great strides on the other end of the court in his first year as a starter.
Amherst has accomplished some impressive things already this year, including a school-record 15-game winning streak to start the season and a number-one national ranking for the first time in school history, but the team will ultimately judge its success this year on what it does in the postseason.
“We’ve managed to set a few school records and we have to be proud of that,” said Jones. “But honestly, our goal from the beginning was to win a national championship and we won’t be satisfied unless we do that.”
Amherst will at least have to defeat Wesleyan in order to secure an invitation to the NCAA Tournament in March, but the Jeffs may well have to win two additional games in the NESCAC Tournament in order to ensure the continuation of their season.