Amherst Defeats Middlebury, 71-64, to Grab No. 2 Seed

Brian Baskauskas had a double-double on senior day.
AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College men’s basketball team closed out the 2008-09 regular season this afternoon, hosting NESCAC rival Middlebury College. The Lord Jeffs were able to gut out a hard-fought 71-64 victory, ruining Middlebury’s bid for an undefeated NESCAC season.

Prior to this afternoon’s tip, Amherst honored the five members of the 2009 senior class. Graduating seniors Ben Kaplan (Glencoe, IL), Glenn Wong (Leverett, MA), and Marcus Bradley (Latham, NY), joined classmates and co-captains Mike Holsey (Potomac, MD) and Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA) at center court for the celebration.

Middlebury took a quick 6-2 lead, before Wong put home a three from the top of the key for Amherst. After five minutes of play, the Panthers led by just two points at 13-11. The Lord Jeffs remained down by a single score until a pair of Ryan Wholey free throws put the Panthers up 19-15 with 11:52 to play.

Baskauskas dropped home a jumper from the baseline, before Amherst rookie David Waller (Tampa, FL) made a pair of free throws to tie the game 19-19 with 10:36 to go in the frame. First-year Jeff Holmes (Pawtucket, RI) looked smooth on a baseline jumper with seven and a half minutes remaining, tying the game at 25-apiece. On the next possession, Holmes went straight at Middlebury’s 6’10” center, Andrew Locke, for another score.

After a Tim Edwards triple for the Panthers, Wong hit a deep three from the left side to keep Amherst on par. Sophomore Conor Meehan (Meriden, CT) found rookie Taylor Barrise (Allendale, NJ) on a back-door cut to put Amherst up 32-30. With three minutes remaining, sophomore Kurt Bennett (Placerville, CA) put home a short jumper, before Barrise hit a three to leave Amherst up 37-34.

Amherst was unable to open up a lead, as Middlebury’s Ben Rudin continued to score in the final minutes of the first half. A deep Baskauskas three rimmed out to end the half with Middlebury up 39-37. At the break, Rudin led all players with 15 points, while Baskauskas paced the Jeffs with 10 points and four rebounds.

The Lord Jeffs started the second half out strong, as Holsey blocked a Middlebury shot, grabbed the rebound and drew a foul. On Amherst’s second trip, Holsey used a jab step to get Locke off balance at the top of the key, and then blew by the Middlebury big man for a one-handed slam.

Meehan scored on back-to-back lay-ups to help Amherst open up a 45-40 lead less than five minutes into the second half. The lead grew to eight points just seconds later as Meehan found Baskauskas for a transition three from the left side, forcing Middlebury to call timeout. After a Panther score, Bradley drained a deep three to put Amherst up 51-42.

Middlebury responded like you would expect the 13th-ranked team in the nation to, scoring on consecutive and-one opportunities, cutting the gap to 54-52 with 9:17 to play. Amherst called timeout, but on the ensuing possession was whistled for a shot clock violation. Before the Panthers could score again, Baskauskas scored to bring his total to 18 points, and put Amherst back up four.

Wong came off the bench to give Amherst another boost with a three from the left wing. The bucket put Amherst up 61-54 with 6:19 to play. Middlebury answered with a 5-0 run to close the Amherst advantage to just two points. Wong responded for the Jeffs, with a massive score on a drive at the 3:23 mark. On the next Amherst trip, Holsey finished off a finger roll on pick-and-roll down the right side of the lane.

With two minutes to play, Amherst nearly forced a shot clock violation from Middlebury, and then took possession on a scramble as the buzzer went. With the Jeffs up seven points, Rudin hit a three to close to 66-62 with 1:30 to play.

Neither team scored until Middlebury fouled Waller with 55.5 seconds to play, as the first-year made 1-of-2 at the line. Rudin scored with 44.2 left for the Panthers, leaving Amherst up just three points with possession. Middlebury took a steal on the inbound, but Rudin’s bid in the lane rimmed out. Baskauskas took the rebound and found Bradley in the backcourt for a timeout with 30.6 to play.

With the shot-clock off, Middlebury was forced to foul Meehan, who knocked down both free throws. Baskauskas blocked Middlebury’s bid on the ensuing trip, leaving Waller at the line to put the Jeffs up 71-64 with 11 seconds left. The free throws were the final points of the game, as Amherst handed the Panthers their first NESCAC loss of the season.

In the end, Baskauskas finished with 18 points and 12 boards for a double-double, while Meehan and Wong added a combined 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Rudin was the high-scorer with 29 points and seven rebounds for Middlebury.

With the victory, Amherst improves to 19-5 (7-2 NESCAC), and Middlebury drops to 21-3 (8-1). The loss snaps a school-record 17-game winning streak for Middlebury, and also snaps a 10-game NESCAC road winning streak. Both teams will host NESCAC Championship quarterfinal games next Saturday, with Amherst hosting No. 7 Trinity.