Photo by Charlie Quigg '09
Amherst seniors John Casnocha, Keith Zalaski, Ray Corrigan and John Bedford accept the 2006 NESCAC Championship Plaque.

Top-Seeded Jeffs Claim NESCAC Championship, Defeating Tufts In Overtime Thriller, 94-86

February 26, 2006

AMHERST, MA – The fifth-ranked and top-seeded Amherst College men’s basketball team locked up its seventh straight NCAA Tournament bid with a 94-86 overtime victory over third-seeded Tufts University in the NESCAC Tournament Championship game on Sunday. This marks the second consecutive conference title for the Jeffs and their fourth in the last six years as they improved to 25-2 and await word of their first-round opponent in the national tournament.

The Jumbos led for most of regulation as they fired a blistering 61.1% (33-for-54) from the field and dominated the Jeffs on the boards (38-24) in the first two frames. Senior Dan Martin (Sandwich, MA) and sophomores Jeremy Black (Jamesville, NY) and Jake Weitzen (New York, NY) did the majority of the damage canning 65.9% (27-for-41) of their attempts and combining for 65 points.

Tufts stormed out of the gates, hitting 12 of its first 15 tries and building an early 22-11 lead. While Tufts couldn’t miss, the Jeffs struggled, knocking down just two of their first nine shots, and allowing the Jumbos to control both the tempo and the scoreboard. The Amherst defense kept the Jeffs in the game, forcing 13 first-half turnovers and the offense finally hit its stride at the seven-minute mark as a steal by senior co-captain John Casnocha (San Francisco, CA) sparked a 14-2 run to give Amherst its first lead of the game, 33-31 at the 3:32-mark. Tufts righted the ship in the closing minutes and the two squads headed for the locker rooms deadlocked at 37-37.

The opening minutes of the second frame went back and forth as the game saw four ties and six lead changes over the first six minutes. An incredible hustle play by junior Dan Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) seemed to give the Jeffs an advantage as he tracked down an offensive board headed out of bounds, heaved it over his head into the middle of the court, where sophomore teammate Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) hauled it in and swung it back to Wheeler for the three-ball. However, Tufts’ fiery shooting brought them out of the scrum on top as a jumper from first-year guard Aaron Gallant (Bangor, ME) gave the Jumbos a one-point edge, 52-51, at the 13:24-mark and they would continue to hold the lead for the next six minutes of play. Amherst stayed close, and a trifecta from Wheeler put the Jeffs back in the driver’s seat, 66-64. They held a slight advantage down the stretch, but Tufts managed to reknot the score at 74-74 with two minutes left in regulation. Weitzen and Wheeler traded a pair of free throws, and Martin hit the second of two shots at the stripe to give the Jumbos a one-point edge with just over a minute to go.

The following possession was long and hard-fought as the Tufts defenders stayed locked on the Jeffs and drained the shot clock down inside five seconds. After a tipped pass by Tufts, Olson secured the ball and fed Casnocha who calmly drained a 27-footer, igniting the home crowd and putting Amherst back in the lead, 79-77. Tufts quickly answered as sophomore Ryan O’Keefe (Everett, MA) knifed to the hole to tie the game back up, and Amherst senior co-captain John Beford’s (Ridgewood, NJ) last second leaner fell long to send the game into overtime.

The Jeffs never trailed in the extra session as a Casnocha putback opened a 7-0 flurry to start the frame. Black answered an Olson three with one of his own to cut the lead back to four, 86-82, but that was as close as the Jumbos would get as they shot only 22.2% (2-for-9) in overtime and the Jeffs cashed in several free throws to maintain the win.

Bedford finished with 23 points, surpassing former teammate Andrew Schiel ’05 and moving into seventh-place on the Amherst all-time scoring list (1,425 career points). Wheeler led the Jeffs and matched a career-high with 24 points and set a career-high with five assists, while Casnocha added 14 points, six boards and two blocks, Olson chipped in 10 points, four assists and four steals and sophomore Matt Goldsmith (Morristown, NJ) posted eight points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Weitzen had 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and seven rebounds to pace Tufts, while Martin notched a double-double with 23 points and 10 boards and Black narrowly missed a triple-double with 17 points, eight caroms and eight helpers. Tufts fell to 21-6 with the loss and awaits word of a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Full NCAA Tournament brackets will be announced tomorrow (Monday) morning at 8 a.m. at http://www.ncaasports.com/basketball/mens.

NESCAC Postseason Tournament
Quarterfinals – Saturday, February 18
No. 8 Connecticut College 48 at No. 1 Amherst 74
No. 7 Colby 81 at No. 2 Trinity 84
No. 6 Williams 89 at No. 3 Tufts 101
No. 5 Bowdoin 51 at No. 4 Bates 67

Semifinals – Saturday, February 25 at Amherst College
No. 4 Bates 66 at No. 1 Amherst 86
No. 3 Tufts 88 vs. No. 2 Trinity 75 (OT)

Championship – Sunday, February 26 at Amherst College
No. 3 Tufts 86 at No. 1 Amherst 94 (OT)

BOX SCORE/PLAY-BY-PLAY