Amherst Headed to National Semifinals for Third Straight Year; Jeffs Knock Off Brandeis, 65-55

Fletcher Walters scored 22 points and added 10 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Walters was named to the All-Sectional Team as well.

By Alex Kantor

PLATTSBURGH, NY – The Amherst College men’s basketball team took to the court at Memorial Hall on the campus of Plattsburgh State University in upstate New York this evening against the Brandeis University Judges with a spot in the 2008 NCAA Division III Final Four on the line. Brandeis led at halftime but was held scoreless for a nine-minute stretch in the second half, as the Lord Jeffs earned a 65-55 victory to advance to the national semifinals for the third consecutive season. Amherst will take on Ursinus College Friday, Mar. 21 at 5 p.m.

Amherst advanced to this evening’s sectional final with wins over John Jay and Richard Stockton College, while Brandeis defeated Lasell, Bowdoin, and host Plattsburgh State. The Lord Jeffs and Judges met earlier this season in Waltham, MA, where Brandeis took a 72-62 result.

Brandeis got on the board first this evening with a bucket in the paint, only to have Amherst respond on a nice backdoor feed from senior captain Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) to junior Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA).

The Judges jumped out to a 13-6 lead in less than six minutes of play on a three pointer from Sam Batista. Amherst did not cut into the deficit until leading scorer Fletcher Walters (Ann Arbor, MI) hit a three of his own from the top of the key.

Brandeis’ forward Terell Hollins set up a basket for a teammate, then scored on his own in consecutive possessions for the Judges. Walters kept Amherst in the game with back-to-back buckets for the Jeffs. With 7:47 to play in the first half, Amherst trailed 20-13 and was forced to call a timeout to avoid a five-second violation.

Coming out of the break, senior Brandon Jones (Hopatcong, NJ) scored on beautiful turnaround jumper on the left baseline. Amherst seemingly caused a timeout on the next Brandeis trip, only to have the ball handed back to the Judges with 12 seconds on the shot clock. The Jeffs blocked three straight shots to cause a shot clock violation.

Junior Mike Holsey (Potomac, MD) charged the Amherst defensive effort with high-energy play and defensive rebounds. With 4:42 to play, Walters closed the gap to 20-17 on a mid-range jumper.

Kevin Olson scored five straight points for Brandeis to stretch the lead back up to 25-17 before Amherst returned its starting five to the floor to close out the final 3:13 of the half. A great offensive rebound from Baskauskas led to an Andrew Olson three from the left wing.

Amherst ended the half on a 7-4 run to head to the locker room trailing just 29-24. At the break Walters led all players with 13 points, while Kevin Olson paced the Judges with 11 points. The Jeffs were shooting just 36.7 percent from the field, while Brandeis mustered just 34.3 percent overall.

The Lord Jeffs hit their first four shots of the second half to stay neck-and-neck with Brandeis at 36-34. Walters tied the game for the Jeffs when he finished a beautiful ally-oop feed from Olson on the weak side.

Junior Mike Holsey had three blocks in just 13 minutes of action for Amherst. 

Amherst took its first lead of the night at the 15-minute mark on a drive by senior center Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) with an emphatic dunk on the end. Hopkins handed off to Jones for a slam on the next possession, then got out in front of the pack for a third straight dunk to put the Jeffs up 42-36. With 13:30 to go in the second half, Amherst had jumped out to an 18-7 run in the frame.

With 12 minutes to play, Baskauskas made a trademark silky smooth jumper on the baseline to extend the Amherst advantage to 44-36. On the next trip, Olson finished a hard drive with a looping finger roll to keep the Jeff run going and take a 10 point lead.

Brandeis was forced to call a timeout with 9:52 to play, as Amherst was in the midst of a 24-7 run to go up 48-36. The Judges finally ended their nine-minute scoring drought with a score from Hollins. The Jeffs responded with another highlight reel play from Olson to Holsey for a slam dunk and a foul.

With 6:40 to play in the second half, Joe Coppens hit a three pointer from the corner to bring Brandeis to within 10 points. Senior Matt Goldsmith (Morristown, NJ) responded with a strong drive and finish in transition.

The Judges closed the gap to 53-45 on some untimely turnovers by the Jeffs in the backcourt. Amherst looked to start killing some clock, and was sent to the line for two shots in the double bonus with 4:14 to go. Walters knocked down both shots from the charity stripe to keep the lead at 10.

Amherst was given the ball back on a jump ball with 3:16 to play, needing a basket to slow Brandeis’ momentum. Jones provided the score to put Amherst up 58-49. On the following possession, Olson and Walters each picked up blocks on the perimeter before a stop inside from Goldsmith prevented a Judge score.

At the 2:27 mark, Brandeis forced a turnover while trailing by nine points. Olson forced a turnover and, while falling out of bounds, had a teammate call a timeout to avoid handing possession back to the Judges.

With 1:47 left in the second half, Jones drilled two foul shots to put Amherst up 60-49. After another defensive stop, the Jeffs barely escaped a 10-second violation to get the ball into Goldsmith’s hands for a trip the foul line.

Hollins had a put-back to close the deficit to 61-51 in Amherst’s favor with just 1:08 to play. After Jones went 1-for-2 at the line, Goldsmith played unbelievable defense to force a turnover in the corner to prevent Brandeis from closing the gap.

Andrew Olson was named the Sectional
MVP for the third straight season.

Walters was fouled going in for a breakaway lay-up to add another pair at the line to put Amherst up 64-53. The Judges were reduced to fouling Amherst in the backcourt as soon as the ball was put into play, and Amherst knocked down free throws to ice the win.

The final seconds ticked away on Amherst’s 26th win of the 2007-08 season, sending the Lord Jeffs back to Salem, VA for their third consecutive Final Four appearance and the fourth in the past five seasons.

Walters led the Jeffs with his eighth double-double of the season, totaling 22 points and 10 rebounds with three blocks and a pair of steals. Hopkins and Jones had 12 and 11, respectively, while junior Mike Holsey (Potomac, MD) contributed with three blocks in just 13 minutes of action. Olson finished with nine points, seven assists, three steals and two blocks. 

***ADDITIONAL NOTES*** On Monday March 17, 2008, an All-Sectional Team was announced. The honorees are listed as:

#4 - Mario Lancioni - Richard Stockton
#5 - Joe Coppens - Brandeis
#11 - Anthony Williams - Plattsburgh State
#32 - Fletcher Walters - Amherst
#1 - Andrew Olson - Amherst

2008 Plattsburgh State Sectional M.V.P - Andrew Olson - Amherst