The Cougars justified this concern with an impressive first half, shooting 57.9 percent from the field. Amherst, meanwhile, struggled against Clark’s zone defense but managed to enter the half with a narrow 32-25 advantage.
The Jeffs returned to form in the second half behind an improved defensive effort. Amherst held Clark to a 26.3 percent field goal percentage in the second half. Rebounds of these missed shots allowed the Jeffs to generate a transition offense that could circumvent the Cougar zone and pull away for a 71-44 victory.
“At halftime, we decided that we were not going to give them any layups or open threes and that we were just really going to put the screws to them,” said John Bedford ’06. Bedford led the Jeffs with a game-high 15 points and six assists.
The highlight of the game was a thunderous dunk late in the second half by Kevin Hopkins ’08 that was set up by a pass off the backboard from Andrew Olson ’08. Hopkins’ vertical prowess brought back memories of Pat Fitzsimons ’03, who was the last Jeff who could play above the rim. One unfortunate note was junior Keith Zalaski’s first missed three-point shot of his career. He came into the game 4- 4 but was off the mark from downtown in the second half. Despite this win, Amherst is still looking to reach its full potential.”We have a lot of good freshmen and sophomores, and we are still coming together as a team,” said Bedford. “But we definitely have the potential to do what we did last year.”
For the fourth consecutive year, Amherst opened its season by hosting the Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational, and, for the fourth consecutive year, the Jeffs faced little resistance in laying claim to the championship trophy.
After obliterating Medgar Evers College 107-55 in the opening round, Amherst bested Vassar College 84-62 the following day in the championship game. Senior co-captain Andrew Schiel was awarded Tournament MVP honors after registering 31 points during the two-day tourney in just 31 minutes of action.
The Jeffs made short work of hapless Medgar Evers in the season opener. After a slow start, Amherst engineered a 16-0 run midway through the first half and then pulled off a 20-2 spurt at the start of the second to cement the blowout. Sixteen of the 17 players who dressed for Amherst pierced the scoring column, and no Jeff played fewer than six minutes during the game.
The team was a model of balance. Despite totaling 107 points, only three players managed a double-figure scoring output, and no Jeff scored more than 13 points. Amherst also put on an impressive shooting display, making 53.8 percent (14-26) of all three-point attempts.
The hosts faced a slightly stiffer test in the championship game against Vassar. As against Medgar Evers, Amherst struggled to find its rhythm in the opening minutes, but then put together a solid run to put the game out of reach.
Vassar’s Judson Winton poured in a game-high 21 points to make the outcome more respectable for the Brewers. Schiel led the Jeffs with 18 points, and Russell Lee ’05, John Casnocha ’06 and Dan O’Shea ’07 contributed 12 points apiece. Lee was the only other Amherst player to join Schiel on the All-Tournament team. Amherst also out rebounded Vassar 30-24.
The Championship game was a rematch of the inaugural Ken Wright ’52 Memorial Invitational Championship game that the teams played in 2001. Amherst won that contest 79-68 in what remains the most competitive game Amherst has ever played in the young history of the tournament. With its most recent win over Vassar, Amherst now has an overall record of 8-0 in the Ken Wright Invite, with an outrageous 30.1 point average margin of victory per game.
While the tournament may have lacked suspense, it did provide ample opportunity for Head Coach Dave Hixon ’75 to show off his talented freshmen. Five members of the class of 2008 suited up for Amherst during the tourney, and all saw extended action in both games. Particularly impressive was the play of point guard Andrew Olson ’08. Olson certainly proved himself worthy of his valuable minutes with his play in the tournament. The rookie displayed excellent court vision and a willingness to look for his own shot, racking up six points and seven assists.
Amherst returns to action this weekend in the Pioneer Valley Classic at Westfield State College. The Jeffs take on Westfield State on Friday and Western New England College on Saturday.