Jeffs Overcome 15-Point Deficit in Thrilling 71-66 Win Over Ephs

Shannon Finucane scored a team-leading 20 points
in the win over Williams.

AMHERST, MA – The top-ranked Amherst College women’s basketball team moved to within one game of returning to the National Semifinals for the second straight season after topping archrival Williams College in the Sectional Semifinals this evening. Amherst erased a 12-point halftime deficit to pull out a record-setting 71-66 victory in front of a raucous crowd of 1,300 at LeFrak Gymnasium. The Lord Jeffs improved to 30-0 on the year, setting new program marks for wins in a season (30) and consecutive home wins (26). With Christopher Newport losing this evening, Amherst is now the only undefeated team left in Division III.

After seeing Babson College advance past Gettysburg 71-68 in overtime in this evening’s first Sectional Semifinal, Amherst took the court against their NESCAC and Little Three foes. Tonight’s meeting was the third of the season between Amherst and Williams, with the Lord Jeffs winning both regular-season matchups by comfortable margins.  

After Amherst tri-captain Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, OH) scored the first basket of the game, Williams rolled off an 8-0 run to take an early six-point lead. Off a Jackie Renner (Newton, MA) miss, Leyman pulled down an offensive board for a score to close the gap to 8-4. Amherst’s Lem Atanga McCormick (Chicago, IL) had blocks on back-to-back defensive possessions, as the Jeffs closed the gap to two-points. With 13:50 remaining, Atanga McCormick made a jumper from the right elbow to tie the game at 8-8.

Williams first-year Grace Rehnquist broke the tie with a deep three for the Ephs. Amherst went to the bench following the basket, bringing in Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT) in her first action after missing the last seven games with a hand injury. At the midpoint of the half, Amherst turned a pair of missed three pointers by Rehnquist into scores, to turn a five-point deficit into a 14-13 lead.

A three by Eph Jennie Harding and a transition score by Taylor Shea opened back up a 22-18 lead for Williams. Amherst rookie Marcia Voigt (Skillman, NJ) came up empty from beyond the arc on consecutive attempts, with Harding knocking down a three for the Ephs on the ensuing possession. The triple put Williams up 26-20 with just under six minutes remaining in the first half.

The Williams lead grew to ten points with 4:42 to play in the half, before a Rehnquist triple off an offensive rebound put the Ephs up 35-22 with two minutes remaining. Amherst ended the half with a 1-for-2 trip to the free throw line by Shannon Finucane (Cortland, NY) to head into the break trailing 37-25.

Sarah Leyman had a double-double with 19 points
and 11 rebounds in the victory.

The Ephs scored the first three points of the second half, opening up a 40-25 lead in less than a minute of action. The 15-point deficit was the largest the Lord Jeffs had faced in any game this season. Amherst closed the gap to 41-30 on a triple by Finucane, which was the Jeffs first long ball of the game after missing nine straight from long range to start the night. After a stop on the defensive end by Amherst, the Ephs were forced to call a timeout.

The two teams traded traveling violations, before Stedman closed the gap to 41-33 on a three-point play the old fashioned way. Leyman scored in the post, before Renner took a steal the distance for a layup to close the gap to 41-37. After a Jill Greenberg score briefly stretched the Williams lead back to seven points, Voigt answered with a triple for Amherst.

Amherst and Williams went blow-for-blow, scoring on four straight possessions. The exchange was capped by a Finucane three to close the gap to 48-45, only to see Greenberg answer with a jumper for the Ephs. Another Finucane long ball with 10:27 to play shrank the margin to 50-48, and forced another Williams timeout.

Coming out of the stoppage, Amherst forced a turnover before Leyman was fouled trying for a put-back on a miss. She hit both free throws, tying the game at 50-50 with 9:47 to play. The Jeffs took another steal, and got Stedman out on a break to regain their first lead since an 18-17 advantage in the first half.

Williams responded with a score from Shea inside to cut the Amherst lead to 54-52, but another pair of Leyman free throws with 6:23 remaining put the Jeffs up two possessions. Greenberg made one free throw, and then scored on a drive to cut the lead down to 56-55. Amherst called a timeout with 4:44 to play, clinging to just the one point lead.

After the stoppage, Greenberg nailed a pull-up jumper to put Williams up a point, before Voigt answered with a runner for Amherst.  Harding answered for the Ephs, but Atanga McCormick drilled a triple for Amherst. On the following Williams possession, Shea scored and was fouled, but her missed free throw left the game tied 61-61.

Atanga McCormick hit another three for Amherst as the shot clock was winding down, her three equaling the Lord Jeffs’ lead with just over two minutes to play. Moments later, Shea was able to draw a fifth foul on Atanga McCormick, ending her night with 2:01 remaining. A Leyman score with one second on the shot clock gave Amherst a 66-63 lead, before Amherst forced a stop on the defensive end.

The Lord Jeffs ran the shot clock down, and after a miss by Finucane in the lane, caused a jump ball on the ensuing rebound. The possession arrow kept the ball with Amherst, with only 31 seconds remaining. The Ephs were forced to foul, sending Finucane to the line. The career 85% free throw shooter made both, putting the Lord Jeffs up 68-63.

After another stop on defense, Leyman made one-of-two at the line with 13.4 to play. With 5.3 seconds left, Rehnquist hit a deep triple to close the gap to 69-66. The Ephs were forced to foul once again, with Finucane making both at the line to put Amherst on top 71-66.

Greenberg missed a desperation shot at the buzzer, sending Amherst into the national quarterfinals with a 71-66 win.  Finucane finished the game with 20 points to lead the Jeffs, while Leyman had a massive 19 points and 11 rebounds. Voigt chipped in with 11 points, while Atanga McCormick added 10 points. Shea led the Ephs with 10 points and 11 boards, while Greenberg was solid all-around with 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

The loss ends the Ephs’ season with a record of 20-8, while Amherst will take on Babson College tomorrow night at 6 p.m.