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Amherst College > Athletics > Men's Basketball > Jeffs Win NESCAC Crown
   

Men's Hoop Wins Second Consecutive NESCAC Championship With 85-78 Win Over Top-Seeded Trinity

February 24, 2002

Steve Zieja '03
Junior tri-captain Steve Zieja poured in 21 points in the first half and 32 overall, both game-highs
HARTFORD, CT - Behind 32 points from junior tri-captain Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) - just two shy of his career high - the Amherst College men's basketball team entered familiar territory on Sunday, downing top-seeded host Trinity College, 85-78, in the title game of the NESCAC Postseason Championship Tournament. With the victory, fourth-seeded Amherst (21-6) claimed its second straight conference championship and an automatic bid to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament, with pairings to be announced tonight at 9 p.m. EST on NCAAChampionships.com.

The first half was an offensive slugfest, with the two teams - which also met in the championship game of last season's inaugural NESCAC Tournament - tickling the twine at just under 50.0% while combining for 90 points. Zieja was particularly spectacular, hitting six of his first seven shots en route to a game-high 21 points at the break, while Trinity had three players in double figures before halftime.

Meanwhile, Trinity senior guard Colin Tabb (Somers, CT) - who torched the Jeffs for 34 points and a game-winning three-pointer in the Bantams' 110-107 triple-overtime win on February 2nd - started the game on fire. After a game-opening lay-up by classmate Bryan Dion (East Haven, CT), Tabb scored Trinity's next 11 points, including a trio of NBA-range three-pointers with Amherst defenders draped all over him like a musty curtain. The barrage precipitated an early 13-4 lead for the hosts and led to a full timeout taken by Amherst head coach Dave Hixon.

Sensing his team's frustration, Hixon inserted senior defensive stopper Pat Taverna (Whitesboro, NY), who harassed Tabb for the remainder of the half, holding the NESCAC Player of the Year candidate to just a pair of free throws for the next 13 minutes. While Tabb faded from the spotlight - thanks in large part to Taverna - Zieja took over, scoring 10 straight Amherst points during a 17-6 flurry. Sophomore slasher Adam Harper (Washington, DC) finally gave the Jeffs their first lead, 28-26, with a three-pointer from the left wing. After a pair of tie scores - 28-28 and 30-30 - Amherst then outscored the Bantams 20-10 over the first half's last seven minutes, taking a 50-40 lead into the locker room at the break.

Ryan Faulkner '03
Junior point guard Ryan Faulkner finished with four assists and three steals, while masterfully handling Trinity's full-court pressure defense
Trinity clawed back in the second half, gradually trimming its deficit to just four points, 76-72, with 3:30 left in regulation, when Tabb hit his first three-pointer since early in the first half. The Bantams managed just six points the rest of the way, however, while Amherst cemented the win, hitting 7-of-8 free throws and a Zieja reverse lay-in down the stretch.

The Jeffs committed just four turnovers in the second half and a season-low seven overall against Trinity's 2-2-1 full-court trap defense, with junior point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH) and sophomore guards John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) and Harper slicing through the pressure like buttery steak knives. Both teams shot exceptionally well from the free throw line. Amherst finished 25-for-31 (80.6%), while Trinity was nearly perfect, hitting 21-of-23 attempts.

In addition to his game-high 32 points, Zieja pulled down six rebounds and went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe. Donovan added 16 points and four assists, while junior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) finished with 10 points and seven boards. In the backcourt, Faulkner and Harper each dished out four assists and snagged three steals. Tabb was the main man for Trinity with 24 points, followed by Dion with 22 and junior forward Ryan Uszenski (Woodbridge, NJ) with 16.

The win was particularly gratifying for Amherst's three seniors - Taverna, power forward Paul Williams (Franklin, MA) and shooting guard Michael Proctor (Vero Beach, FL) - who collectively emerged as the winningest class in school history, upping their career victory total to 78 in four seasons. Last years' graduating class of Brian Daoust, Erik Kelly and Abe Sexson held the previous record of 77.

The Jeffs will now focus on their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament and ninth consecutive postseason appearance. Last season, Amherst downed visiting St. John Fisher College, 89-76, in the NCAA first round, followed by an 89-76 second-round loss at Clark University.

NCAAChampionships.com will air its Division III Men's Basketball Selection Show live on the Internet at 9 p.m. EST. The tournament field will include 35 automatic, five independent and eight at-large bids. Trinity and Williams College are the only schools from the NESCAC that have an outside chance of joining Amherst as at-large additions to the NCAA Tournament field.

Click HERE for full box score...