Second-Half Outburst Propels Men’s Basketball Over Bates

Amherst earned the number three seed in the tournament for its 22-2 regular season record, which included a 21 game winning streak that was the second longest in program history. The Jeffs faced off against sixth-seeded Bates in a rematch of a hard fought battle earlier this year. Although the Jeffs pulled away in that one by a 74-68 margin, the Bobcats came to LeFrak ready for revenge. The Jeffs, however, rose to the challenge. Bates jumped out to an early lead with a three pointer from Brian Ellis ’11, and the first half remained close throughout. The Jeffs took their first lead with a three from co-captain Conor Meehan ’11 to make the score 14-13. The triple began a 12-0 run for the Jeffs that gave Amherst a 23-13 lead and swung the momentum back towards the home team. Undeterred, the Bobcats battled back and cut the Amherst lead to 33-28 at halftime.

While the Jeffs held the lead at the break, the teams were evenly matched. The Jeffs shot 42 percent from the field in the opening half, while Bates put up a 41 percent mark. In addition, the Bobcats held a slight advantage on the boards, outrebounding the Jeffs 21-19.

Amherst came out of the locker room determined to control the glass, and their effort showed in the stat sheet. The Jeffs came out with relentless energy and grabbed 29 boards in the second half while holding the Bobcats to just 16. Taylor Barrise ’12 led the offensive effort early in the half with three treys, part of a nine-point, nine-rebound effort. The feisty Bobcats would not go away, though, and managed to cut the Amherst lead to six with 9:08 to go. The visitors seemed primed for a comeback.

But a technical foul on Bates’ Nick Schmiemann gave the Jeffs the extra cushion they needed to pull away. The outburst prompted a 13-0 Amherst run that sealed the 77-61 victory. The points leader for the Jeffs was big man Peter Kaasila ’13, who overpowered the Bobcats’ interior defenders to drop an impressive 18 points and nine rebounds. Aaron Toomey ’14 added 12 points, four boards, four assists an three steals in a solid all-around effort. In addition, Willy Workman ’13 had 11 points and made himself a huge inside presence with four blocks.

Afterwards, Meehan said that the key to the game was the team’s effort to “stay focused on the individual game at hand, instead of looking ahead to bigger and better opponents.” With the Jeffs’ victory, however, those opponents loom directly ahead. The Jeffs will travel to Williams this weekend for the final rounds of the NESCAC Tournament, and next up on their schedule is semifinal opponent Middlebury College.

The second-seeded Panthers handed the Jeffs their first loss of the season on Feb. 11. Middlebury is currently ranked fourth in the nation with just one blemish on their record. Their only loss of the season came against top seeded Williams, the only other team to defeat the Jeffs. Both Meehan and co-captain Kurt Bennett ’11 insist that their team is ready for the challenge and that the Jeffs are “playing with a chip on our shoulder.” Bennett continues by repeating the team’s motto, that “it’s about us, not about them.”

If the Jeffs can stay focused and bring their best game against the class of the NESCAC, they will have a chance to win Amherst’s first conference title since 2006.