A jubilant Russell Lee takes home a souvenier after the Jeffs' NESCAC title game win over Bates.
Second-Ranked Jeffs Claim Third NESCAC Title in Last Five Years with 65-57 Win Over Bates
February 27, 2005
AMHERST, MA - Behind 23 points, eight rebounds and five blocks from senior co-captain forward Andrew Schiel (Wayne, PA), the second-ranked and top-seeded Amherst College men’s basketball team entered familiar territory on Sunday, downing visiting No. 3 seed Bates College 65-57 in the title game of the NESCAC Postseason Championship Tournament. With their school-record 18th consecutive victory, the Jeffs (25-1) claimed their third conference title in the last five years and an automatic bid to their sixth straight NCAA Tournament, with pairings to be announced by the NCAA selection committee tonight at 10:30 EST.
Amherst, which finished a perfect 14-0 against conference opponents this season, will most likely draw a first-round bye and host a second-round NCAA Tournament game next Saturday. With top-ranked Wooster falling to fifth-ranked Wittenberg in last night’s NCAC Tournament title game, the Jeffs should enter NCAA Tournament play as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Amherst’s postseason run thus far has proved to be nerve-racking with respective narrow wins over Bowdoin and Trinity in the conference quarterfinals and semifinals, and Sunday’s victory over Bates was no exception. The Jeffs trailed by two at the half and watched a 10-point second-half lead nearly vanish into thin air, courtesy of a personal 8-0 run by Bates sophomore point guard Zak Ray (Bangor, ME). Leading just 59-57 after a Ray three-pointer with 2:32 remaining, Amherst tightened up on defense and held Bates to 0-for-5 shooting down the stretch to preserve the win. The Jeffs also shot 6-for-8 from the line over the final 2:08, with rookie Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) and Schiel each nailing a pair of charity tosses in the final minute.
Amherst entered the postseason fresh off a 19-point win at Bates and a 33-point shellacking at Tufts and breezed to 17 double-digit victories during the regular season, so a trio of close games in tournament play has been a bit of an eye opener.
“We have to start playing with rhythm again,” said Amherst head coach Dave Hixon ’75 after the game. “In these three (NESCAC Tournament) games, we haven’t had all cylinders going, to say the least. I always talk about the difference between wanting and needing. We wanted to win this tournament, but they (Bowdoin, Trinity and Bates) all needed to. Now that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, where if we don’t win we don’t move on, I think that’ll give us our edge back.”
Seniors Andrew Schiel, Russell Lee and Ray Corrigan with Amherst's third NESCAC Championship plaque.
Schiel topped the Amherst scoring column for the 15th time this season, but junior guard John Bedford (Ridgewood, NJ) was equally impressive with a gritty 18-point, nine-rebound, three-assist performance. And while Schiel and Bedford did the bulk of the scoring, the precocious Olson, who took over at point guard after incumbent senior co-captain Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) went down with a season-ending injury in the third game of the year, was spectacular, whipping a behind-the-neck pass to a streaking Russell Lee (Lorton, VA) for an easy transition bucket, and draining an implausibly deep three-pointer from the top of the key at the exact moment Bates switched to a 2-3 zone.
“Ray (Corrigan) has helped me a lot,” said Olson, who played all 40 minutes to the tune of five assists, eight points and no turnovers. “He’s a good leader, and he’s shown me so much. These guys make it a lot easier for me. A lot of these assists, I wouldn’t get on most teams, because we’ve got guys like Andrew Schiel who can step out and can hit a three. They’ve made it a much easier process.”
Amherst is now 13-2 all-time in the conference postseason, winning the NESCAC Tournament in both 2001 and 2002 before falling to archrival Williams in the 2003 and 2004 title games. The Jeffs have had similar success in NCAA Tournament play of late, advancing to the NCAA round of 16 in 2002, the national quarterfinals in 2003 and reaching the NCAA Final Four for the first time in school history last season.
Bates finishes its year at 19-8, shattering a school record for wins in a season. Sophomore Rob Stockwell (Temple, NH), Ray and senior Jon Furbush (S. Portland, ME) paced the Bobcats with 16, 13 and 10 points, respectively. Ray, the 2004 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, also dished out a game-high six assists.
VIEW PHOTOS from Sunday's win (courtesy of Sam Masinter '04, Amherst Public Affairs)
2005 NESCAC TOURNAMENT
First Round - Saturday, February 19
No. 8 Bowdoin 68 at No. 1 Amherst 74
No. 7 Colby 88 at No. 2 Tufts 99
No. 6 Williams 73 at No. 3 Bates 76 (ot)
No. 5 Wesleyan 64 at No. 4 Trinity 78
Semifinals at Amherst (Saturday, February 26)
No. 1 Amherst 75 vs. No. 4 Trinity 72
No. 2 Tufts 54 vs. No. 3 Bates 60
Championship at Amherst (Sunday, February 27)
No. 1 Amherst 65 vs. No. 3 Bates 57