Amherst Holds On For 81-72 Win at Wesleyan

Senior Steven Wheeler scored a career-high 27
points in the win at Wesleyan.

MIDDLETOWN, CT – The 9th-ranked Amherst College men’s basketball team traveled south to face Little Three archrival Wesleyan University in a non-conference game this evening. Amherst saw a 16-point halftime lead shrink to single digits in the second half, but held on for an 81-72 win. The result improves Amherst’s record to 8-1 overall, while the Cardinals fall to 5-6.

During the first two minutes of play, Amherst traded a pair of triples from sophomore Taylor Barrise (Allendale, NJ) and senior tri-captain Steven Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) with Wesleyan scores inside to take a 6-4 lead. After a pair of free throws from junior tri-captain Conor Meehan (Meriden, CT) and another triple from Wheeler, Wesleyan called a timeout with 15:39 to play and Amherst leading 11-4.

After Wesleyan closed the gap to five points, Barrise hit his second three from the right side to double-up the Cardinals at 16-8. A third Barrise three ball and a nice jump hook from rookie Peter Kaasila (Plaistow, NH) stretched the Amherst lead to 21-9. With nine minutes to play, Wheeler hit another three from the left corner to put the Lord Jeffs on top 27-11, as Amherst started the game 6-for-8 from long range.

Wesleyan closed Amherst’s lead from 22 points at its largest during the first half to 16 points at the break. The Lord Jeffs took a 47-31 lead into halftime, with Wheeler leading all players in scoring with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting from behind the arc. Shasha Brown, Wesleyan’s first-year who leads the NESCAC in scoring, paced the Cardinals with 10 first-half points.

After three and a half minutes of play in the second half, Wesleyan closed the margin to 53-44 using a 13-6 run to start the frame. Despite a timeout by Amherst head coach David Hixon ’75, Amherst could not slow Brown, as the rookie scored five straight points to close the gap to 53-47.

At the midpoint of the second half, Wesleyan closed the window to 60-56, but on Amherst’s next two possessions Kaasila scored consecutive buckets inside to open back up an eight point edge. A three-point play by Wheeler and a pair of Meehan free throws stretched the Jeff lead back to 69-58 with just over seven minutes to go.

Amherst sophomore Jeff Holmes (Saunderstown, RI) made a pair of free throws with 2:59 remaining in the second half to keep the Jeffs up 71-63. Neither team scored apart free throws, and a pair from the charity stripe by Meehan with 42.3 seconds remaining left the score at 74-67. On the next possession, Wesleyan’s Jason Mendell made a three from the left corner to close the gap to 74-70 with 34.0 seconds left.

Over the final minute, Wesleyan was forced to foul Amherst and hope for scores on offense. Wesleyan closed to 79-71, before Barrise blocked the final Cardinal bid of the half and sprung Wheeler for an uncontested dunk at the buzzer to seal an 81-72 win.

Wheeler finished the night with a career-high 27 points to lead four Lord Jeffs in double digits. Barrise had 14 points and seven rebounds, while Holmes and Meehan scored 11 apiece. Holmes added nine rebounds, while Meehan had seven boards and six assists. Brown finished with 26 points for the Cardinals, while Mike Callaghan had 12 points and seven boards in support.

Amherst returns to action on Saturday at Williams for another Little Three matchup. Tip-off against the Ephs is slated for 4 p.m.