Air Amherst: Men's Basketball Remains Undefeated
By Karan Bains '14, Sports Section Editor

As the regular season winds down, the men’s basketball team has shown no signs of slippage as they continue to build momentum for the postseason. This week, the Jeffs extended their season-long win streak to 21 games, going 2-0 against NESCAC opponents Tufts, Bates before beating Brandeis on Tuesday.

The undefeated Jeffs now trail only the 2006-07 team in the Amherst record books. That squad, which won an incredible 23 consecutive games, also went on to win the national championship, a feat this year’s team will look to repeat.

The Jeffs used a strong second-half performance to power past Tufts on Friday, earning a 96-77 win. The Jumbos came out playing hard at the outset, keeping the game close and even grabbing a five-point lead at one point.

However, the poised play of point guard and co-captain Conor Meehan ’11 helped the Jeffs stay afloat. At the end of the half, David Waller ’12 fed Allen Williamson ’13 for a score that gave Amherst a two-point advantage going into halftime, and from there, the entire team overwhelmed the Jumbos. Tufts made another run to tie the game at 48, but the Jeffs used a 36-14 run over the next nine minutes to put the game out of reach.

Meehan finished with 23 points and five assists, and Williamson and Taylor Barrise ’12 both added 14 points apiece. Waller had an all-around solid game, scoring 13 points but also grabbing eight boards and dishing out six assists.

Barrise emphasized the importance of a team-oriented approach after the game, saying that “If we continue to enjoy playing hard and having a lot of guys contribute then we’re going to be successful.”

The Jeffs needed every bit of intensity they could get the following day when Bates came to LeFrak. While the Bobcats’ mediocre record didn’t inspire any fear in the Jeffs, Meehan made sure his team came ready to play. “We know how important each game is, even if the opponent isn’t a Williams or a Middlebury,” he said. “[We] try to keep the mindset that each next game is the most important game of our season.”

That attitude was likely a huge difference maker in this one, as the visitors gave the Jeffs everything they had. Yet, Amherst managed to pick up the victory by a 74-68 margin in a tightly contested game.

The Bobcats actually led for the majority of the game, spreading out the offense and playing aggressive defense. Meehan hit a pair of free throws with about 12 minutes remaining in the game to give the Jeffs their first lead in over 20 minutes, but Amherst wasn’t out of the danger zone by any means.

The remaining portion of the game saw the lead change six times along with four ties as the teams battled to the final whistle. Aaron Toomey ’14 nailed four crucial free throws in the last minute to secure the victory.

Toomey was a perfect 12-12 from the line in the game, totaling 18 points, five rebounds and three assists. Meehan led the team with 21 points, eclipsing the 20-point mark for the second consecutive game. Williamson added 12 points, including a six for six performance from the charity stripe, as free throws played a huge role in determining the outcome of the game. The Jeffs went an impressive 25-28 from the line, good for 89 percent, while the Bobcats were only 14-25, or 56 percent.

Spurred on by their close victory, the Jeffs sprinted out of the gate against Brandeis on Tuesday and began the game on an 18-3 tear. Meehan and Tim Prowitt ’12 shouldered the bulk of the scoring burden in the first half, with Meehan scoring 14 of his game-high 21 points and Prowitt adding all seven of his points in the first 20 minutes. While the Judges came out much stronger in the second half, the Jeffs held on to the lead and won by a final margin of 79-65. Williamson complemented Meehan’s 21 points with 17 of his own, and Toomey added 13, including a perfect eight for eight mark from the line.

In addition to the three team wins, a number of Jeffs were honored for individual accomplishments throughout the week. Toomey earned his second NESCAC Player of the Week award and is being mentioned as a top candidate for the conference’s rookie of the year.

Toomey is averaging 13.2 points per game and 3.6 assists over the first 20 games and sits second on the team in both categories, behind only Meehan. Meehan himself was honored before the Bates game, along with fellow seniors Billy Butler ’11 and co-captain Kurt Bennett ’11. The class of 2011 has compiled a 82-22 record over their four years at Amherst, and are leaving the program on the upswing as this year’s results thus far clearly indicate.

The Jeffs wrap up the regular season this week with a game against the Panthers at Middlebury on Friday before a rematch at Williams that should be a thrilling finale before the NESCAC tournament. The Jeffs won the first contest in overtime in LeFrak, and another win over the Ephs combined with a victory at Middlebury would give the team a tie for the longest winning streak in program history — no small feat — going into the postseason. After that, according to Bennett, the team will have its eye on the ultimate prize. “We always say that our goal isn’t to be top five in the country,” he asserts. “Our goal is to win a NESCAC and a national championship.”

Issue 14, Submitted 2011-02-09 17:08:55