Amherst Upset in NESCAC Semifinals; Bowdoin Wins 65-64


Junior Brian Baskauskas led the Jeffs with
16 points in the loss

AMHERST, MA – The top-ranked and top-seeded Amherst College men’s basketball team kicked off a full evening of NESCAC Tournament semifinal action when No. 4 Bowdoin College came to LeFrak Gymnasium. Bowdoin provided more than Amherst could handle, completing the 65-64 upset to advance to Sunday's NESCAC title game.

The Lord Jeffs advanced to this weekend’s semifinals with an 86-69 home win over No. 8 Colby last weekend, while the Polar Bears topped No. 5 Bates in Brunswick, ME by a score of 83-50. In the only meeting between Amherst and Bowdoin this year, the Jeffs registered an 85-79 win on the road.

After Bowdoin started the game on a 5-3 run, Amherst seniors Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) and Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) had back-to-back buckets to put the Lord Jeffs up 6-5. The two sides traded baskets over the next five minutes, until Olson drained another deep three to put Amherst up 13-11 with 12 minutes to play.

With nine minutes to play, Amherst senior Brandon Jones (Hopatcong, NJ) broke a 15-15 tie with a put-back dunk off a missed Olson three. After Bowdoin answered, Olson found classmate Matt Goldsmith (Morristown, NJ) on a backdoor cut for an easy lay in.

Bowdoin went step-for-step with Amherst, each time on lay-ups by sophomore Mark Phillips (Ashland, MA). Each time the Polar Bears tied the game, Amherst responded with a lay-up off an Olson feed. Amherst took advantage of a Bowdoin miss with a three from sophomore Steven Wheeler (Bloomington, MN). The triple put Amherst up 24-19 with 6:30 to go in the half.

The Polar Bears responded with an 8-0 run, including a pair of three pointers by junior Kyle Jackson (Acton, MA) and senior Andrew Hippert (Worcester, MA). Bowdoin stretched its lead as large as seven points at 34-27, but Jones responded with a three ball for the Lord Jeffs.

As the half closed, Bowdoin clung to a 36-30 lead, riding 10 first-half points from Jackson and eight points from Phillips. Amherst was paced by a diverse attack as Olson, Wheeler, Hopkins and Jones scored at least five points apiece. Despite being out-sized, Bowdoin out-rebounded Amherst 20-10 in the first half.

Bowdoin started the second half on a 6-0 run, stretching its lead to a dozen and forcing Amherst head coach David Hixon ’75 to call a timeout. Amherst pressed to try and cut into the Bowdoin lead, but with just 12 minutes to play, the Jeffs still trailed 50-36. The Jeffs caught a break when Jones was fouled in the act and flipped up a shot that fell. The free throw capped an impressive three-point play to close the gap to 50-39.

Amherst senior Fletcher Walters (Ann Arbor, MI) brought a packed house to its feet with a thunderous block against the corner of the backboard. On the ensuing possession, Walters flipped in a mid-range runner to bring Amherst within single digits.

With just 7:48 to play in the second half, Amherst called another timeout, still trailing 56-45, despite a number of impressive plays to try and cut into the gap. After the timeout, Goldsmith followed a Walters miss with a nice weak-side put-back.

The Polar Bear lead was closed to eight points at 58-50 on a pair of free throws by junior Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA). After consecutive stops by Amherst, Wheeler sent the stands into a frenzy with a deep three ball to cut the lead to just five points. Bowdoin called a timeout with 4:35 remaining after a hard foul was whistled to send Olson to the line. The 2007 NESCAC Player of the Year hit both shots to close the margin to 58-55.

Bowdoin had another shot turned away by Walters, only to set up a fourth three pointer by Wheeler, this time to tie the game at 58-58. Jackson responded for Bowdoin with a three ball of his own on the following trip.

A pair of free throws from Phillips put the Polar Bears back up by four, only to have Baskauskas cut the lead in half with a silky turnaround jumper. On the next trip, Baskauskas nailed a three from the left corner to give Amherst a 64-63 lead. The lead was the first for the Lord Jeffs since 5:42 was remaining in the first half.

Amherst forced the Polar Bears into a shot clock violation to get the ball back, this time with a chance to extend the lead. A turnover by Olson led to a breakaway lay-up by Bowdoin’s Jordan Fliegel (Cambridge, MA). With the Jeffs trailing 65-64, Baskauskas missed a runner on the baseline.

With less than half a minute to play, the Jeffs were forced to foul. After a Bowdoin miss and an offensive rebound, Andrew Sargeantson (New Canaan, CT) was fouled. He missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving the Jeffs the ball back. Olson dribbled in front of his own bench and called a timeout with 5.4 seconds to go.

Amherst designed a play to create the potentially game-winning shot, down one point, 65-64. Goldsmith took the inbound, playing the ball in to Olson after a number of Amherst players were tightly covered. Olson was left to pull up for a deep three to win, but the shot rimmed out.

Bowdoin upset the Jeffs, which is the first loss at home for the Amherst since Feb. 25, 2007. Amherst was paced by 16 points from Baskauskas, and 12 from each Wheeler and Olson. The Polar Bears were led by Jackson’s 18 points and 14 points from Phillips. The Polar Bears will await the winner of this evening's Middlebury-Trinity game to face in tomorrow afternoon's NESCAC Championship.

Amherst will once again need to receive a Pool C "At-Large" bid to get into the NCAA Tournament. Selections will be announced on Monday morning at noon, and posted on the Amherst Athletics Website shortly afterwards.