Jeffs Edge Middlebury, 71-69, for NESCAC Title

Men_story
Amherst won its first NESCAC title since 2006.

Contact: Justin Long

AMHERST, Mass. – Taylor Barrise '12 knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer with 3.2 seconds remaining in regulation to lead the Amherst College men's basketball team to a 71-69 win over Middlebury College in the NESCAC Championship finals on Sunday afternoon.

The Lord Jeffs (25-2) will earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while Middlebury (24-3) will likely receive an at-large selection. The NCAA’s selection show is scheduled for tomorrow at noon. More information will be posted tonight on the Amherst Athletics website.

Middlebury battled back from a 15-point deficit with an impressive run in the final 10 minutes. With the game tied at 68-68 and Amherst in-bounding the ball, the Jeffs elected to let the clock run down for one final shot. Point guard Aaron Toomey ’14 dished the ball to Barrise on the wing, and Amherst’s all-time three-point leader came through with a clutch shot that brought the score to 71-68.

With only 3.2 seconds to go, the Jeffs fouled Joey Kizel ’14 on the ensuing in-bounds pass. The sophomore guard knocked down his first attempt to make it a two-point game, but after he intentionally missed the second the Panthers’ put-back attempt at the buzzer fell well short.

It was fitting that the conference title came down to a classic showdown between Amherst and Middlebury, as the teams closed out the regular season with an overtime thriller that also went the Jeffs’ way. Amherst bumped its win streak to 12 and has won 29 straight in LeFrak Gymnasium.

Toomey and Willy Workman ’13 led Amherst with a combined 34 points and eight assists on 13-of-21 shooting. Kizel and Jake Wolfin ’13 were equally impressive for Middlebury, combining for 39 points and six assists on 13-of-22.

Amherst held an 18-4 advantage in bench points and shot better than 50 percent in each half (50.9 overall), including a 6-for-12 performance from behind the arc. Middlebury struggled from long range (7-for-23) but nearly pulled off the comeback after shooting 51.9 percent in the second period.

Seniors_story
Amherst's seniors accepted the championship trophy.

The key in the first half was a 12-0 Amherst run that gave the hosts a 20-15 lead midway through the period. The Jeffs had only a 20-19 advantage with 7:48 to go but held Middlebury scoreless for the next 3:07, closing the half on a 16-7 run for a 36-26 cushion at the break.

The Panthers then started the second half 1-for-6 from the floor and trailed by as many as 15 when a Workman tip-in gave the Jeffs a 54-39 lead with 10:15 remaining. Middlebury began to take charge on a Kizel steal and three-point play, followed by a three-pointer by Wolfin on the next possession to suddenly bring the score to 56-49 with 7:58 on the clock.

Wolfin then capped off a 10-0 run with a pair of free throws, but Amherst’s David Waller ’12 finally put a stop to the bleeding with a hard drive and layup. The Panthers chipped away at their deficit with a huge offensive rebound and put-back by Ryan Sharry ’12, followed by six quick Wolfin points that made it a 65-64 game in favor of the hosts with 1:20 to go.

Jeff Holmes ’12 gave Amherst a big boost by muscling in a layup while getting fouled, and he knocked down the ensuing free throw to put the Jeffs back ahead by four. Middlebury tied the game at 68-68 with two Sharry free throws and a Kizel layup, setting up Barrise’s heroics on Amherst’s final possession.

Kizel’s 21 points led all players, with Wolfin and Toomey each scoring 18 for their respective team. Workman finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Jeffs, while Sharry had a double-double on 10 points and 12 boards for the Panthers.

This is the Lord Jeffs’ first NESCAC men’s basketball title since 2006 and their fifth overall, the most by any school in the conference. With the Jeffs' women’s basketball team also claiming the conference crown earlier in the day (marking the first time a school has won both NESCAC basketball titles in the same season), Amherst has earned five of the NESCAC’s team championships this year, the most in school history.

BOX SCORE * PHOTO GALLERY * VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS 

2012 NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship
Quarterfinal Round - Saturday, Feb. 18
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 8 Hamilton, 86-66
No. 2 Middlebury def. No. 7 Williams, 73-61
No. 3 Wesleyan def. No. 6 Bowdoin, 78-59
No. 5 Bates def. No. 4 Tufts, 57-54

Semifinal Round - Saturday, Feb. 25
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 5 Bates, 97-74
No. 2 Middlebury def. No. 3 Wesleyan, 74-52

Championship Game - Sunday, Feb. 26
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 2 Middlebury, 71-69