Jeffs Advance to Second Straight NESCAC Championship Game with 69-62 Win Over Williams
February 23, 2002
Played on a neutral floor, Saturday's semifinal was truly the rubber match in a three-game set between the Ephs and Jeffs. Amherst came away with a 72-70 overtime victory on their home floor on January 15, and Williams returned the favor in lopsided fashion the following weekend in Williamstown, 74-45. With the season on the line, both teams played understandably tight early-on. The first half saw a wealth of turnovers, 19 in all, keeping the game relatively close - and low scoring - through the first 13 minutes.
Sophomore shooting guard John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) scored eight of the Jeffs' first 14 points on a trio of consecutive buckets - including a pair of three-pointers and a jumper from just inside the arc - good for a 14-13 Amherst lead with 10:18 on the clock.
Williams sophomore forward Benjamin Coffin (Westford, MA) countered with the game's first free throws on the ensuing possession, sparking a 7-2 flurry for the Ephs. Amherst's two points during the run came in spectacular fashion on a thunderous breakaway dunk by junior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC), igniting a considerable Amherst contingent that made the 45-mile trek to Hartford.
Down by four points, the Jeffs turned the tide with help from a few unlikely sources. The first of whom - reserve sophomore forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA) - drew an offensive foul call on the Ephs' second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Drew DeMuth (Carlisle, PA) - precipitating the junior center's relegation to the bench for the rest of the first half. With DeMuth out and the paint a little less clogged, Fitzsimons went wild, scoring 11 of the Jeffs final 18 first-half points, including six on the offensive glass, en route to a 34-28 Amherst lead at the break.
Another somewhat unlikely hero, first-year point guard Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY), ran the offense through most of the surge, while senior tri-captain forward Pat Taverna (Whitesboro, NY) provided a much-needed defensive boost in the first half, tallying a steal, two rebounds, forcing a pair of turnovers and rejecting Williams point guard Michael Crotty (Belmont, MA) on a breakaway lay-up.
Now staring at a 12-point gap, Williams upped its defensive intensity and held the Jeffs to just one bucket - a lay-up by Jones - over the next 8:32. Suddenly, what had been a double-digit advantage was now a one-point affair with Amherst on top, 52-51, with 5:51 remaining.
Zieja finally broke the drought with a five-foot floater from the right wing, only to watch Crotty come right back and knot the score, 54-54, with a clutch three-pointer from the top of the arc.
Junior point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH) reclaimed the lead for Amherst, beating the shot clock with a reverse lay-in, and Crotty tied the game yet again with a pair of free throws on the other end as the game morphed into a back-and-forth nail-biter.
Undeterred, Faulkner continued his ongoing personal battle with Crotty seconds later, juking his counterpart at the free throw line and snaking in for a lay-up on a slick up-and-under move. Crotty tried to retort for a third time, drawing a foul on Faulkner, but missed the first of two free throws as Amherst held on to a slim 58-57 lead.
While Crotty fell short at the charity stripe, Amherst would seal the game from the line, hitting 11-of-14 free throws down the stretch. Williams managed just five more points over the final 1:43, two of which came on a pair of Crotty free throws with five seconds left, after the game was all but over. The win was Amherst's eighth in their last 10 meetings with Williams, after a three-game sweep last season, including an 85-67 Amherst win in the first round of the 2000-01 NESCAC Tournament.
After scoring a game-high 15 points in the first half, Fitzsimons finished with 16 points overall, along with a game-high 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Donovan added a game-high 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting, and was joined in double figures by Zieja and sophomore guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), who added 14 and 13 points, respectively.
DeMuth and Crotty were the lone Williams players in double figures. DeMuth paced the Ephs with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Sunday's championship game will pit fourth-seeded Amherst against top-seeded Trinity (18-4), winners of Saturday's other semifinal matchup over sixth-seeded Wesleyan University (15-10), thanks to a half-court buzzer beater in a miraculous 74-71 win. Trinity downed Amherst 110-107 in triple overtime earlier this season, as Bantam senior sharpshooter Colin Tabb drained a three-pointer with three seconds left in the third extra session en route to a team-high 34 points.
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