In a packed LeFrak Gymnasium, the men’s basketball team opened its NESCAC tournament run with a thrilling overtime victory over Williams by a final score of 89-86. The Mammoths couldn’t solve the Ephs in their first two meetings during the regular season, losing both games by a combined five points, but they triumphed on Saturday in front of a raucous crowd.
The game was back and forth from the opening tip and was characterized by a series of runs from both sides. Neither team found any separation for the first ten minutes until the Ephs went on a 10-0 run with 7:50 remaining in the first half. They extended their lead all the way to 15 points with less than four minutes remaining on the clock, but the Mammoths went on a run of their own to close out the half.
The highlight of the run came with just 32 seconds remaining in the frame. Garret Day ’21 sunk a fade away three while being fouled and subsequently cashed in on the free throw to complete the four-point play and cut the Eph’s lead to just two going into halftime.
Momentum was clearly on the Mammoths side to start the second half. Within the opening minute, Eric Sellew ’20 jumped in a passing lane for a steal and finished the fast break with an emphatic one-handed slam, electrifying the Mammoths bench and crowd and giving Amherst their first lead since the 10 minute mark of the first half.
The Ephs seized back momentum and went on another run of their own to gain a seven point lead early in the half, but the Mammoths battled back to knot the score at 74 apiece with under three minutes remaining. Both teams traded baskets in the final minutes, and Amherst managed to take a three point lead with seven seconds remaining on two free throws from Day.
On Williams final possession, the Mammoths intentionally fouled the Ephs, knowing that they needed three points to tie, to send them to the line with just three seconds left on the clock. After making the first free throw, the Ephs missed the second but were able to corral the offensive rebound and hit a layup right at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
As with the other two frames, the beginning of overtime played out much the same, with both teams trading baskets back and forth. Tides seemed to shift 2:35 into the OT period with a near identical highlight play from Sellew, who intercepted a pass and threw down another one-handed dunk on the fast break to give Amherst a four point lead. The lead remained until Williams hit a three with 21 seconds left to cut their deficit to just one. However, Josh Chery ’20 came in clutch down the line, sinking two pivotal free throws after being intentionally fouled with just 19 seconds on the clock to extend the Mammoths lead to three.
The Ephs had the final shot but could not convert on a deep three that hit the back rim and was secured by Chery, who kicked it to Day to run out the rest of the clock for a Mammoths victory.
Day led the way for the Mammoths with his first career double-double, notching a game high 24 points shooting 50 percent from three and gathering 12 boards to go along with his scoring. Chery picked up his second double-double on the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Grant Robinson ’21 added 13 points coming off the bench.
Fru Che ’21 and Sellew also recorded double digit point totals, with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Mammoths now look ahead to their semifinal bout with Colby this Saturday, Feb. 29 at Tufts.
Colby is the higher seed, coming in ranked second in the NESCAC, while Amherst holds the number three seed, but Amherst comfortably handled business in the only meeting between the two teams during the regular season, winning by 18 points.
Colby had some difficulty getting past its quarterfinal game, needing three overtimes to defeat seven-seeded Bates. The winner will go on to face the winner of the Tufts-Trinity semifinal in the championship game the following day, on Sunday, March 1.