Amherst Falls 77-68 in NESCAC Title Game; Will Await At-Large Word from NCAA

Brian Baskauskas scored 17 points and grabbed
14 boards in what may be his last game for Amherst.
MIDDLEBURY, VT – The 2nd-seeded Amherst College men’s basketball team took on top-seed and host Middlebury College this afternoon at Pepin Gymnasium in the 2009 NESCAC Championship game. Amherst battled back from a double-digit deficit, but came up on the short end of a 77-68 result.

Amherst topped Williams 86-74 yesterday to earn a spot in their eighth title game in nine years, while Middlebury beat Bowdoin 76-46 to reach the final for just the first time in program history. In the only meeting this year between the two teams, Amherst picked up a 71-64 home win to deny Middlebury an undefeated NESCAC regular season.

After Middlebury’s Kyle Dudley opened the game’s scoring with a jumper from the right baseline, Amherst rookie David Waller (Tampa, FL) hit a three from the right side in response. The Lord Jeffs went to senior co-captain Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA) on the next trip for a three-point play the old fashioned way.

Amherst opened up a 10-4 lead with 17:18 to play after a pair of Meehan free throws and a Baskauskas lay-up in transition. Middlebury quickly called a timeout, before Panther senior Ben Rudin hit a three, and Tim Edwards made a pair of free throws to close the gap to 10-9.

After an emphatic rejection from Amherst senior co-captain Mike Holsey (Potomac, MD), Baskauskas pulled up for a deep three. Holsey got into the scoring mix with a two-handed dunk on an assist from sophomore Conor Meehan (Meriden, CT), before another Baskauskas three-point play put Amherst up 18-9 with 14:28 to play.

Middlebury responded with an 8-2 run of their own, including a pair of scores from Ryan Sharry. Amherst first-year Taylor Barrise (Allendale, NJ) answered with a three on his first touch of the game, before Sharry scored on a put-back to lead the Panthers trailing 23-19.

The Panthers took their first lead since 2-0 on a triple from Ryan Wholey at the 9:29 mark. The score remained 24-23 in Middlebury’s favor when Amherst called a timeout with 8:49 to play in the first half.

Amherst took a 28-26 lead with 7:09 to go in the half, as Baskauskas drained another three, giving him 14 points in the half. Middlebury scored six straight points, before Amherst first-year Jeff Holmes (Saunderstown, RI) scored a tough bucket inside. Middlebury’s Dudley and Meehan traded scores, before Middlebury scored consecutive scores to go up 38-32.

Middlebury scored on a second-chance opportunity, opening up a 42-32 lead with just two minutes to play in the frame. Meehan stopped the Panther scoring run with a high score off the glass. Amherst forced a turnover late in the shot clock, before Holmes put in a three-point play. The 5-0 Amherst run sent the Lord Jeffs into the break trailing 42-37.

Baskauskas led all players in scoring and rebounding at the half with 14 points and eight boards. Meehan chipped in with eight points for the Jeffs, while Rudin paced the Panthers with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Rudin and Holsey traded scores to start the second half, before Tim Edwards hit a three for Middlebury to open up a 47-39 edge. The margin went back to ten points on a tap-in by Aaron Smith. Baskauskas nailed a three in transition to cut the deficit back to single digits.

After a scramble on a pair of Panther misses, Edwards drilled his second three of the half to make the score 52-42 in Middlebury’s favor. Holsey picked up his fourth foul with 13:13 to play, sending him to the bench, and brining Holmes back in. Holmes immediately found Waller for a three, closing the gap to 53-45. Holmes hit a step-back for a deep two-pointer, closing the gap to 54-47. The lead shrunk back to five points with 11 minutes to play when Meehan hit a mid-range jumper.

The Amherst Class of 2009 accepted the conference's runner-up plaque in its final NESCAC Championship.
Wheeler made a jumper from the right elbow, before a Meehan steal led to a Waller score in transition. The flurry from the Lord Jeffs closed the gap to 54-53, and forced a timeout from Middlebury with 10:12 to play.

After an official’s review gave Middlebury a fresh shot clock, Baskauskas stole a Panther pass, and found Meehan for a transition lay-up. The score put Amherst up 55-54 with 9:42 to play, marking the Jeffs’ first lead of the half. Holmes grabbed a huge offensive rebound for a put-back to keep Amherst in pace after a pair of Matt Westman free throws.

Jamal Davis took a steal the length of the court for a three-point play to put the Panthers back ahead 59-57, before Holmes tied the game with a long two. Waller and Sharry traded scores, before Rudin stepped through the lane for a score to put Middlebury up 63-61 with 5:57 to play in the second half.

Amherst made a trio of free throws over the next two possessions, tying the game at 65-apiece with 4:11 to play. Smith and Sharry scored on consecutive possessions for Middlebury, before Sharry went to the line for a pair of makes. The spurt put Middlebury up 71-65 with just three minutes to play.

After a wild possession on the Middlebury end, Rudin made a short jumper to leave Amherst down 73-65. Waller hit a three with 1:05 to play, before Amherst called a timeout down 73-68. Middlebury put the ball into play, but Amherst trapped in the corner and forced a timeout after just four seconds.

Amherst was forced to foul Rudin with 50.8 seconds left. The Middlebury captain made 1-of-2 leaving Amherst behind in a two possession game. Amherst could not get an open look, and Wheeler let a three that rimmed out fly with half a minute to play. Middlebury grabbed the rebound, sending Kyle Dudley to the line. He knocked down both free throws, before Amherst came up empty on another possession.

Middlebury made free throws down the stretch, as time ran out on Amherst. The final score came in at 77-68, with Middlebury dribbling out the clock. Baskauskas finished the night with 17 points and 14 rebounds, with Waller (14), Meehan (13) and Holmes (11) finishing in double-digits.

With the result, Middlebury wins the first NESCAC title in program history, while Amherst falls to 21-6. Amherst will await word Monday morning to see if the NCAA selects them for an at-large bid to the national tournament.