No. 9 Amherst Falls to No. 11 Williams 72-69 in Thriller

Rookie Willy Workman had a breakout performance
in his first career Amherst-Williams game.

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – The 9th-ranked Amherst College men’s basketball team traveled to face Little Three and NESCAC archrival Williams College in a matchup of national powers. The Lord Jeffs erased a double-digit deficit in the second half, but ultimately fell to the 11th-ranked Ephs 72-69 in front of a capacity crowd at Chandler Gymnasium.

After three minutes of action, Amherst sophomore Taylor Barrise (Allendale, NJ) made a three from left corner off a feed from junior tri-captain Conor Meehan (Meriden, CT) to put Amherst on top 7-4. After Eph sophomore James Wang scored his third basket of the early going, Meehan found senior tri-captain Steven Wheeler on a fast break for a score. The Ephs responded with a transition dunk by Joe Geoghegan to take a 12-11 lead and send the Williams student section into a frenzy. The Williams lead hit five points at 16-11, forcing Lord Jeff head coach David Hixon ’75 to call a timeout with 13:38 to play.

Coming out of the stoppage, Amherst scored back-to-back buckets inside to tie the game at 16-16. Williams answered with consecutive scores of its own, before a Harlan Dodson three opened up a 23-16 lead. Amherst rookie Willy Workman (Northampton, MA) scored on a drive to the left to stop the Williams scoring run.

After Workman turned away a Wang shot with an emphatic block, he found classmate Peter Kaasila (Plastow, NH) with a nice feed that sparked a run for the Amherst offense that closed the gap to 23-22 with just under seven minutes to play. The Ephs scored the next seven points to take a 30-22 lead on a three from Alex Rubin. With 3:32 to play, Workman finished off a drive through traffic with a tough scoop shot for Amherst.

The Williams lead swelled to 33-24 with an and-one dunk by Geoghegan. Despite some great effort from Workman on the defensive end, including a very impressive block from behind on a would-be dunk by Troy Whittington, Amherst was unable to cool the hot Williams shooters. At the break, the Ephs held a 43-30 lead.

Amherst was led offensively by Wheeler with 10 points and Meehan with eight points in the frame. Wang paced the Ephs with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists in the half. Amherst made just 3-of-10 three pointers, while the Ephs made 5-of-8 attempts from long range.

By the 17:08 mark of the second half, Amherst had closed the gap to 45-38 on a triple by Barrise, after a missed second free throw by Jeff Holmes (Saunderstown, RI). Amherst got a score from Holmes in the paint, and then Workman in transition after a steal and assist by Meehan. The consecutive scores closed the gap to 49-46 with just over 14 minutes to play. After another Workman finger roll in traffic, Amherst had a chance to take the lead when Wheeler was fouled on a three and the Jeffs trailing 49-48. The 83% career free throw shooter went to the line and missed all three.

Amherst finally drew even at 53-53 with 9:26 remaining in the second half on a Meehan three pointer, but on Williams’ next possession, Whittington had a three-point play on a dunk over Kaasila. The next points of the game came over two minutes later on a three-point play by Geoghegan. Neither team scored until the 4:55 mark when a Whittington reverse layup opened back up a 61-53 lead for Williams.

Meehan led Amherst with 21 points, eight assists
and seven rebounds at Williams.

The Eph lead grew back to 66-55 on a pair of Wang free throws, before Meehan answered with a score an assist to Workman for back-to-back buckets. Following the Workman basket, Hixon called a timeout with 2:31 to play and Amherst trailing 66-59.  Coming out of the timeout, Meehan scored for Amherst once again following a stop on the defensive end. Williams called the next timeout with 1:25 to play and the lead down to 66-61.

After a long offensive set, Williams got a three from Alex Rubin and the Jeffs answered with a Kaasila bucket off a nice dish by Workman. With 45.1 seconds to play, Amherst trailed 69-63, and was forced to go into a full court press. Following a foul and a missed free throw by Wang, Kaasila was the unlikely shooter of a three from the left corner. The long ball went in with 26.2 to close the gap to 69-66.

Amherst again fouled Geoghegan before the inbound, and he missed the first foul shot to set up an Amherst attempt at a three to tie. Meehan missed a triple form the right wing, and Geoghegan made both free throws after being fouled on the rebound. With less than ten seconds to play, Wheeler made a deep triple to cut the deficit to 71-69. Once again, Geohegan was fouled before the inbound and made one-of-two free throws.

With no timeouts remaining, Amherst took the rebound and pushed the ball up court in Meehan’s hands. Meehan used a pick from Barrise, and then handed the ball back to Barrise who put up a deep three from the left wing. The shot was perfectly on line, but came up just inches short as the buzzer sounded. With the miss, Williams won the first of two meetings this season 72-69.

Meehan led Amherst with 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals. Workman was very impressive in his first Amherst-Williams game, setting or tying career-highs in points (14), rebounds (7), blocks (3) and steals (2). Wang led the Ephs with 19 points, while Geoghegan and Whittington combined for 27 points and 12 rebounds. Amherst shot just 27% (4-for-15) from the free throw line in the loss, and missed nine straight at one point in the second half.

Amherst will return to action at Babson on Monday night, but will have to wait until February 12 to get another shot at Williams in the final weekend of the regular season.