Amherst Has Repeat Bid Denied by 90-68 Loss to Wash-U in National Championship
Senior Andrew Olson was named to the
SALEM, VA – The defending national champion Amherst College men’s basketball team returned to center court at the Salem Civic Center this afternoon against Washington University of St. Louis for the 2008 NCAA Division III men’s basketball national championship. Amherst was denied their repeat bid on this day, as the Wash-U. Bears pulled away for a 90-68 win.
Amherst defeated Ursinus College 84-58 last night to keep their repeat bid alive, while the Wash-U. Bears escaped top-ranked Hope College to punch their ticket to today’s title game. The Lord Jeffs looked to repeat on the program’s only national championship from last season, while the Bears hoped to take home their first ever crown.
The Lord Jeffs started this afternoon’s game in carbon-copy form from yesterday, with a defensive stop in the paint and then a turnover in transition. After the game’s opening score came from Wash-U’s Troy Ruths, Amherst went inside to senior Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) who missed his first attempt.
Amherst fell behind 6-2 on a weak-side dunk by Ruths, before his baseline jumper increased the margin to six points. Head coach David Hixon ’75 called a thirty-second timeout to get the Jeffs organized, and avoid a larger run. After a pair of free throws by junior Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA), Wash-U’s Cameron Smith scored five straight points to put the Bears up 13-4.
By the 13:45 mark of the first half, Amherst trailed 16-8, and saw Ruths to the line for a pair of free throws to increase the margin to ten points. The lead grew as large as thirteen, before senior Fletcher Walters (Ann Arbor, MI) made a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 23-12.
Senior Matt Goldsmith played well
defensively against Ruths.
With 9:19 to go in the opening frame, Walters was fouled on the right block, but flipped a shot over his shoulder and in for the front end of a three-point play. Less than two minutes later, senior captain Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) swept in for a left-handed lay-up to cut the margin to eight points at 29-21.
Another pair from the line by Ruths put the lead back at thirteen, 34-21, with six and a half to go. Olson responded on a step-back jumper, before Walters grabbed a steal and went the distance for a lay-up to bring Amherst back to 34-25, with just 5:08 to play.
After the final media timeout of the first half, Olson found Hopkins with a threaded bounce pass for a dunk. Olson dropped in a floater on the next Amherst trip to cut the led to six points at 35-29. Wash.-U responded with a three from the left wing, before Olson hit Hopkins for another slam. Once again though, the Bears responded with a triple from the wing, to take the lead right back to ten points.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the lead that the Lord Jeffs had shrunk to six points sat at a dozen once again. Wash-U. closed the half with one more bucket to take a 45-32 lead into the locker room.
At the break, Ruths lead all players with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and a 7-for-8 half at the line, while Walters paced Amherst with nine points and a pair of rebounds. Olson and Baskauskas each chipped in with six points for the Jeffs.
Amherst took the floor for the second half with their starting five of Olson, Baskauskas, Walters, Hopkins and senior Brandon Jones (Hopatcong, NJ). The Lord Jeffs cut the lead down to ten points on an Olson three, and then created a turnover with some tough defense. After another Amherst steal, Olson drilled a pull-up triple to bring the score to 50-44.
Senior Brandon Jones made a valiant
effort at a comeback.
Amherst created three early turnovers from the Bears, and hit their first three long balls to get back into the game. But with a pair of misses from downtown by the Jeffs, Wash-U. was able to quickly take the lead back up to a dozen.
At the 9:19 mark, Jones scored five straight points for the Lord Jeffs to cut into the Wash-U. lead that had grown to 16 points. A three-point play from the senior closed the gap to 69-56, but a triple by Danny O’Boyle equalized for the Bears.
With 6:59 to play in the second half, Jones grabbed another offensive rebound after his own miss, and was fouled in the act of the put-back. Jones made both free throws to close to 72-58.
Wash-U. swelled their lead to 76-58 with just five minutes to play, and Amherst was looking at a situation where only a near miracle would put them in a position to pull out a win. At the final media timeout of the second half, Amherst trailed by 18 points, 78-60.
No such comeback showed up for the Lord Jeffs, as the Wash-U. Bears pulled away down the stretch for a 90-68 victory. The result ends Amherst’s season with a record of 27-4, while the Bears improve to 25-6 and win the program’s first-ever National Championship.
Walters scored a team-high 17 points for Amherst and pulled down five boards, while Olson had 16 points and six assists. Baskauskas and Jones each scored 12 points, while Jones had a team-high seven rebounds.
Wash-U. was led to the crown by another massive performance by Ruths, who left the floor with 33 points and eight rebounds. Aaron Thompson and Tyler Nading scored 19 and 13, respectively, to round out the double-digit scorers for the Bears.
The loss also marks the end of the careers of Olson, Jones, Hopkins, Walters and Matt Goldsmith (Morristown, NJ). Olson was named to the All-Tournament Team once again alongside Thompson and Most Outstanding Player, Troy Ruths from Wash-U. The senior class will walk away from Amherst with an impressive resume that includes an overall 111-12 mark, and last year’s national title.