Contact: Ben Badua
AMHERST, Mass. - Outscoring Middlebury by 21 points in the second half, the seventh-ranked Amherst men's basketball team turned a four-point halftime deficit into an 84-67 victory over the Panthers on Senior Day in LeFrak Gymnasium.
Picking up its fourth-straight win over Middlebury dating back to 2010-11, Amherst (21-3, 9-1 NESCAC) locked up the top seed in the upcoming NESCAC Championship and will host No. 8 Colby in quarterfinal action on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 4 p.m.
The Jeffs and Williams each finished with identical 9-1 league ledgers, but Amherst's head-to-head triumph over the Ephs helped secure the No. 1 seed. Finishing the regular season 16-8 overall and 6-4 in conference action, Middlebury enters tournament play as the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 Hamilton next weekend.
Shooting just 35.5 percent (11-of-31) over the first 20 minutes, the Jeffs shot a blistering 66.7 percent from the floor (18-of-27) after the break, including a 50.0 percent (8-of-16) showing from behind the arc. Plagued by foul trouble early, Aaron Toomey '14 scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, while also finishing with eight assists and five rebounds.
Hitting eight of his 12 field goal attempts, Tom Killian '14 had 18 points and seven boards, while Connor Green '16 and David Kalema '14 had 15 and 13 points, respectively. First-year David George was the only other Jeff to break into double digit scoring with 10.
Locked in a closely contested game over the first five minutes, Amherst rattled off a 15-1 run over a span of 5:06, going up 23-11 on a Kalema layup midway through the period. Winning the next five minutes, Middlebury responded with an 18-5 stretch of its own, retaking the lead on a Joey Kizel '14 triple with 4:16 left in the first.
Trailing 34-30 at the intermission, Killian opened up the second half scoring with a layup on Amherst's second possession. The next time down the floor, Green drained a transition three off of a Toomey feed to give the home team a 35-34 edge. Dylan Sinnickson '15 put the Panthers back on top with a layup at 17:22, but the Jeffs answered with a 17-4 run over the next 4:45.
Kalema got things going with a three pointer following Sinnickson's bucket before Killian knocked down a trey of his own. After Toomey hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, Jake Brown '17 buried a jumper that cut the visitors' deficit to 42-38. Green and Killian combined for the game's next five points before another Brown basket had Middlebury back within seven. Alex Levine '15 responded with a layup before Green capped off the run by converting a three-point pay the old-fashioned way to put the Purple & White up 52-40.
With both teams trading baskets over the next several minutes, the Panthers pulled within 58-47 on a Brown layup with 10:28 remaining in regulation. Burying a triple moments later, Toomey jumpstarted an 11-1 run that saw the Jeffs build a 21-point cushion. Toomey tallied six points during the decisive stretch that was bookended by a Joseph Mussachia '15 three-point play at 7:06 that made it 69-48.
Despite getting outrebounded 41-36, Amherst did a lot of its damage inside, finishing with a 36-16 edge in points in the paint. The Jeff bench also played a key role, outscoring the Middlebury reserves, 22-14.
Sinnickson led the visitors with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Kizel had 16 points and eight boards. Brown was the only other Panther to score in double figures with 11 as the team managed to connect on just 21 of its 63 field goal attempts (33.3 percent) and 3-of-18 threes (16.7 percent).