FINAL FOUR BOUND! Jeffs Hold Off Morrisville St., 84-74, to Advance to National Semifinals

ToomeyRIC.jpgContact: Ben Badua

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AMHERST, Mass. - For the second time in as many years, the seventh-ranked Amherst men’s basketball team punched its ticket to the Final Four, defeating Morrisville State College (22-9) in an NCAA sectional final match-up at LeFrak Gymnasium, 84-74.

Scoring a game-high 31 points, Aaron Toomey ’14 became the first 2,000-point scorer in program history, upping his career mark to 2,030. Knocking down 7-of-15 field goals, the two-time NESCAC Player of the Year was 6-of-9 from long distance and a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe.

Improving to 27-3 on the season, the Jeffs will make their sixth national semifinal appearance since 2004. Playing in the second of two Final Four games at the Salem Civic Center on Friday, Mar. 21, Amherst will tip-off with archrival Williams College at 8:30 p.m. Winners of eight-straight against the Ephs, the Jeffs took all three meetings between the squads this season, including a 93-82 decision in the NESCAC championship game on Mar. 2.

Entering the game just one point shy of becoming the first player in program history to surpass the 2,000-point plateau, Toomey wasted little time getting on the board, draining a triple at the 14:42 mark of the first to put Amherst up 7-6.

Controlling play over the next five minutes, Morrisville rattled off a 17-10 run. Four different Mustangs contributed during the stretch, with Morrisville connecting on three triples, including a Jordan Prior ’14 trey at 9:43 that made it 23-17.

Toomey hit a three-pointer of his own the next time down the floor before a David Kalema ’14 layup pulled the home team back within one. Knotted at 28-28 with 4:12 left in the half, Toomey helped spark a 13-2 spurt. After converting a pair of free throws, the tri-captain drained another triple that staked Amherst to a 33-28 margin.

A Kucjok Ater ’14 putback of a missed Will Thomas ’17 three momentarily stemmed the tide, but Toomey answered with a pull-up jumper from the right elbow before drilling his fourth three of the night to suddenly put the Purple & White up eight. Coming out of a timeout, Connor Green ’16 capped off the run with the Jeffs’ seventh triple of the frame to give Amherst its first double digit lead.

On top 42-32 at the intermission, the home team pieced together an 18-8 run over the first 7:55 of the second period. Knifing into the paint, Tom Killian ’14 got things started with a layup on Amherst’s first possession. After Ater hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line, David George ’17 converted a three-point play the old fashioned way before Toomey buried a three that extended the lead to 50-33.

KalemaRIC3.jpgDown by as much as 20 following a George dunk, Morrisville scored eight of the game’s next 10 points. Wilk netted six during the rally, with a Prior free throw at 8:14 pulling the Mustangs back within 14. Drawing a foul, Toomey hit a pair from the charity stripe to up the margin to 64-48, but a Jailaan Kinsey ’14 bucket coupled with a Prior trey had Morrisville down just 11.

Trying to stave off the visitors, Toomey connected on two more from the free throw line, but Kinsey and Prior continued to roll, netting the contest’s next five to slice the lead back down to single digits. Needing a basket, the Jeffs once again went to Toomey who hit a step-back triple from the left wing at 4:32 to make it 69-58.

Continuing to battle, Morrisville trimmed its deficit back down to eight on a Kinsey free throw at the 4:02 mark, but that was as close as the Mustangs would get. With a trip to Salem within sight, the Jeffs answered with an 11-3 run over the next three minutes to put the game out of reach. Doing much of its damage at the free throw line, Amherst was a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to help seal the win.

Playing all 40 minutes, Toomey had eight rebounds and four assists to go along with his game-high 31 points. Hitting eight of his 14 shots, Kalema finished with 20 points. Killian and George scored 13 apiece, while combining for six rebounds and four blocks. Prior paced Morrisville with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including a 5-of-8 showing from behind the arc. Kinsey had 18 points and three steals, while Wilk and Ater chipped in with 15 and 12 points, respectively.

As a team, Amherst shot 50.0 percent (28-of-56) from the field and 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from long distance. Hitting 48.2 percent (27-of-56) of its shots, the Mustangs were 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from downtown. Despite being outrebounded (35-26) and outscored in second chance points (13-5), the Jeffs finished the game with a 32-26 advantage in points in the paint.

Saturday’s contest also marked the last game at LeFrak Gymnasium for the Class of 2014. Together Amherst’s seniors compiled a 64-1 overall record on their home floor dating back to the 2010-11 season.