Unfortunately, one of the few drawbacks of such unquestioned success is that the more Amherst wins, the more Jeff players and fans expect the team to accomplish. Thus, Amherst’s 69-62 loss to visiting University of Rochester in the Sweet 16 was a decidedly bitter pill to swallow.
“Of course we were disappointed with the early tournament loss, but looking back we did have a great year and accomplished many things most teams would love to have done,” said guard John Bedford ’06. “I think without a doubt our recent success has made expectations higher than most teams.”
Ranked number two in the country by d3hoops.com, Amherst seemed poised to make a return trip to Salem, Va., but an ill-timed spate of poor shooting caused the Jeffs’ season to come to a premature end.
The Yellowjackets opened the game on a 6-0 run and never trailed during the first half of play. Amherst went on an 8-2 spurt of its own over the final five minutes of the opening period to cut its deficit to 30-28 at the intermission. All things considered, Amherst seemed fortunate to be trailing only by two. The Jeffs were a dismal 0-6 from three-point range during the game’s first 20 minutes of action. It was the only half all season that Amherst failed to connect on any three-point attempts.
Amherst’s first three pointer of the evening came five minutes into the second half courtesy of sharpshooter Russell Lee ’05. That bucket gave the Jeffs their first lead of the game, 41-40.
A jumper by super-frosh Andrew Olson gave the Jeffs their largest lead of the game, 46-42, and prompted a Yellowjacket timeout. Following the timeout, Rochester reeled off seven consecutive points in just under two minutes to reclaim the lead-an advantage the visitors would maintain for the duration of the contest. The Yellowjackets collected 19 offensive rebounds during the course of the game and had six critical second-chance points in the final 10 minutes alone.
Up seven with two minutes to go, it finally looked as if Rochester had the game in hand, but the valiant Jeffs made one last run at the Elite Eight.
Olson made two clutch jumpers down the stretch; the second one put Amherst within three with just 16 seconds remaining.
Following a Hixon timeout, the Jeff press nearly produced a much-needed turnover, but as Olson corralled the ball by the Rochester baseline he found himself headed out of bounds. With no timeouts remaining, Olson was forced to throw the ball back in play, and the Yellowjackets regained possession, securing the 69-62 victory for Rochester.
Rochester ultimately made it all the way to the National Championship game before falling to defending national champions University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Co-captain Andrew Schiel ’05 poured in a game-high 20 points in the final contest of his illustrious Amherst career. Bedford, who has played sensational basketball in the final month of the season, finished with 17 points in a full 40 minutes of action.
The game marked the end of the superb collegiate careers of seniors Andrew Schiel and Russell Lee. The class of 2005 is the winningest class in school history, compiling 99 wins over four splendid seasons.
Yesterday, Schiel was named Northeast Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Hixon was named Northeast Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season.
Despite the loss of Schiel and Lee, the Jeffs are already optimistic about next year. With Bedford, Olson and John Casnocha ’06 returning from the starting lineup and co-captain Ray Corrigan anticipated to make a full recovery from an Achilles injury that cost him this season, Coach Hixon will have quite a nucleus to build his team around.
“I think we have a great chance to repeat for the NESCAC title,” said Bedford. “But, to be honest, all I will be thinking about this off-season is cutting those nets down in Salem. A National Championship will once again be our ultimate goal.”