Lord Jeffs Win NESCAC Opener with 79-68 Home Win Over Tufts

Brian Baskauskas scored a team-high 17 points in the win.

AMHERST, MA – The third-ranked Amherst College men’s basketball team kicked off its NESCAC schedule this evening with a home game against Tufts University. The Lord Jeffs jumped out to a large lead in the first half, and held on for a 79-68 win to improve to 12-2 on the year.

If the recent series is any indication, the few hundred fans that showed up to LeFrak Gymnasium would be in for a treat, as the last three meetings between the two sides have all gone to overtime.

Amherst stayed with the Jumbos over the first 3:15 of the game despite having to make free throws on almost every possession. Tufts held a 7-6 lead, while starting forward Jake Weitzen picked up two very early fouls.

After four minutes of play, Amherst senior forward Fletcher Walters (Ann Arbor, MI) backed his defender down and flipped home a nice left-handed finger roll to tie the game. The Lord Jeffs took a 14-10 lead when 6’10” center Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) finished consecutive trips with dunks, after his defender was knocked to the ground on both plays.

At the 9:56 mark, the Jeffs had extended their lead to 20-10 on a trio of scores from Walters and classmate Matt Goldsmith (Morristown, NJ). Hopkins continued to dominate the paint with another reverse lay-in to bring his total to 8 points in less 10 minutes of action.

Tufts ended a 16-0 run from Amherst with a three-pointer from Dave Beyel at the 7:20 mark. Hopkins responded with an off-balanced jumper to double-up the Jumbos at 26-13. Amherst continued to extend its lead on a nice finish from Goldsmith off a feed from senior captain Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA). The bucket gave Amherst a 32-15 advantage with 4:14 to play.

After a miss from sophomore Steve Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) on a shot which may have broken the game wide open, Hopkins killed the Tufts momentum by taking a tough charge on Jon Pierce in the lane.

Amherst closed the half going stride-for-stride with the Jumbos, and took a 38-24 lead into the locker room. Hopkins led all players with 12 points, while Pierce paced the Jumbos with 8 points and Tufts to just 33.3%.

Tufts jumped out of the gate to cut the Amherst lead to nine points on a quick five points from Weitzen, before picking up his third foul. The Jumbos started the half on a 14-5 run, before Hopkins and classmate Brandon Jones (Hopatcong, NJ) scored back-to-back buckets to take the lead back to 47-38.

Some uncharacteristically sloppy turnovers from the Lord Jeffs helped bail Tufts out by giving away possessions. Amherst got back on track when Hopkins and Olson reversed rolls, with the big man feeding the point guard for a back door lay-in.

Tufts would have its work cut out, when a foul on Dan Cook put the Lord Jeffs in the bonus with 11:30 to play. Junior Brian Baskaukas (Palo Alto, CA) knocked down four consecutive free throws around the ten minute mark to increase the Amherst lead to 58-44.

Amherst’s fifteenth turnover of the night led to a breakaway lay-up from Weitzen with 8:00 to play, cutting the lead again to ten points at 58-48. After over three minutes of neck-and-neck play, Pierce hit a deep three to cut the Amherst advantage to 65-58.

Olson answered a run from Tufts with an impossible fall-away jumper in the lane, living up to his reputation as a Jumbo-killer. After a huge block from Baskauskas, the forward missed a three from the right wing, only to have Goldsmith clean-up the miss with a put back on the weak side.

With 1:29 remaining in the second half, Pierce missed a hook shot in the lane. Olson was fouled after a defensive rebound from Jones, and knocked down both foul shots to increase the gap to 74-63.

Amherst made free throws down the stretch and closed out the win 79-68, despite a strong second half effort from the Jumbos. Weitzen scored a game-high 22 points, including 20 in the second half, while Baskauskas led five Lord Jeffs in double figures with 17 points. Joining him were Hopkins, Olson, Jones and Goldsmith, who combined for another 51 points.

Amherst improved to 12-2 overall and 1-0 in the NESCAC with the win, while Tufts falls to 9-5 (0-1). The Jeffs return to action tomorrow afternoon for a 3 p.m. game against Bates College at home.