Men's Hoop Ends Season With NCAA Sectional Loss at SUNY Brockport
March 8, 2002
"I was proud of our guys, going on that run to take an eight-point lead late in the game," said Amherst head coach David Hixon. "But we never got another good look at the basket. They're (Brockport) a very good team. They played hard and physical and went after it for 40 minutes."
With a tenuous 57-56 advantage with 3:50 remaining, sophomore guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), who led the Jeffs with a game-high 25 points, hit one of his four three-pointers to spark a 7-0 run and a 64-56 lead for Amherst. After Harper's trifecta, sophomore guard Frank Perry (Hartford, CT) hit the first of two free throws. When the second clanked off the iron, junior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) tipped in the offensive rebound and was fouled on the play. His ensuing free throw, in effect, completed a rare four-point play for Amherst, and the game seemed well in hand.
Apparently, Brockport had other ideas. The Golden Eagles turned up the defensive intensity, bullying and hand checking the Jeffs up and down the floor and barely allowing a shot the rest of the way, while capitalizing on a number of opportunities on the offensive end. They initially clawed back with a jumper by sophomore forward Charlie Croff (Lockport, NY) and a three-point play by senior guard Mike Masters (Rochester, NY). Junior forward Ryan Carney (Binghamton, NY) then cut the lead to just one point, 64-63, with a lay-up off a back-door cut, while a frenzied home crowd 1,963 strong all but shook the roof off a packed Tuttle North Gymnasium. Another stop on the defensive end gave Brockport the ball, and the momentum, with 1:32 remaining, when 6'5" junior forward Mike Medbury (Attica, NY) exploited a mismatch down low, posting up Amherst sophomore John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) and drawing a questionable foul, despite being parked in the paint for well over three seconds. Medbury canned both free throws, giving the Golden Eagles the lead for the first time since the 6:13-mark - an advantage they would never relinquish.
Desperate for a bucket, Amherst went to its bread-and-butter, junior forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA), who slashed through the lane and appeared to have a wide-open runner. Brockport junior center Brandon Mills (Rochester, NY) materialized out of nowhere, much like the Golden Eagles did in the final 3:28, and swatted Zieja's shot back toward mid-court.
But there was still hope. Zieja fouled Mills, stopping a sure lay-up with 55 seconds on the clock, and Mills bricked both free throws. While swiping at the rebound, Harper was all but tackled by senior guard Erick Mateo (Brooklyn, NY). A scramble followed and a held ball - alternate possession seemed to be the appropriate call. Instead, Mateo signaled for, and was granted, a timeout, while a melee erupted in front of Brockport's bench. A Brockport player dressed in plain clothes came out on the floor and joined in the fracas - grounds for an automatic technical foul - but the infraction was ignored and the game went on.
Inexplicably, Carney tossed Brockport's inbound pass out of bounds when play resumed, and the Jeffs were back in business, still only trailing by one. Amherst returned the favor, however, turning the ball over with 32 seconds left. Harper lunged after the loose ball but was impeded by a nearby official and stepped on the sideline before crashing into press row, as equipment, soft drinks and paperwork flew everywhere, causing another short delay.
Faulkner was forced to commit his fifth personal moments later, robbing Amherst of its most reliable ball handler against Brockport's relentless full-court pressure, which it maintained by constantly running substitutes in and out of the game. Croff drained both charity tosses, but it was still a one-possession game, 67-64, at the 28-second mark.
Harper tried to knot the score with a three-pointer - one of the few shots Amherst managed over the final three minutes - but missed off the back iron. Mills grabbed the carom and hit another two free throws, cementing the win and sending the Golden Eagles on to the NCAA Elite Eight Saturday against the University of Rochester.
Despite missing a three-pointer in the waning seconds, Harper had perhaps the best game of his career, hitting 7-of-11 shots and reeking havoc on the defensive end with four steals. His 18 first-half points almost single-handedly pushed the Jeffs to a 37-30 halftime lead, and every time Amherst needed a basket, they seemed to get it from Harper.
In the end, two things killed Amherst (the officiating not withstanding) - free throws and turnovers. The Jeffs shot just 17-for-30 (56.7%) from the line and turned the ball over 24 times. Brockport wasn't much better, hitting 16-of-30 free throws (53.3%) and committing 18 turnovers, but the Golden Eagles hit their final four charity tosses down the stretch and denied Amherst any legitimate scoring opportunities in the final three minutes.
Zieja and Fitzsimons joined Harper in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Fitzsimons grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds. First-year forward Andrew Schiel (Abbington, PA) also had a strong outing with eight points, including a three-pointer that gave the Jeffs a seven-point lead at the half, and seven boards. Perry played 17 minutes off the bench and was a strong defensive presence, helping limit Medbury - Brockport's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game - to just 13 points on 3-for-14 shooting. Croff paced the Golden Eagles with 18 points and six rebounds.
Amherst finished the season at 22-7, tying the 1993-94 and 2001-02 Jeffs for the most wins in school history. Seniors Pat Taverna (Whitesboro, NY), Paul Williams (Franklin, MA) and Michael Proctor (Vero Beach, FL) will graduate as the winningest class in school history with 79 wins in four seasons, back-to-back NESCAC Championships and a trio of NCAA Tournament appearances.
Brockport, which entered the game as the prohibitive hometown favorite, ran its record to 28-2. They'll be the overwhelming favorites in Saturday's matchup with visiting Rochester, with the winner advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals in Salem, Virginia.
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