Kevin Hopkins '08
Junior Kevin Hopkins was too much for Middlebury, totaling a career-high 21 points (8-10 FG) and four blocks

Jeffs Outlast Middlebury to Give Amherst Best Start in Program History

By Justin Long

January 19, 2007

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College men’s basketball team needed all of its weapons to snap Middlebury College’s nine-game winning streak, as the Lord Jeffs outlasted the Panthers 79-73 to improve to 16-0 (3-0 NESCAC) on the season, the best start in program history. With the loss, the Panthers fall to 11-4 (2-1 NESCAC).

Sophomore Aaron Smith converted on lay-ups on consecutive possessions to give the Panthers an early 4-2 lead, but after senior quad-captain Dan Wheeler (Bloomington, MN) knocked down a jumper and junior Andrew Olson (San Diego, CA) followed with a three-pointer two minutes later, Amherst pulled ahead 7-4 and never let Middlebury regain the lead.

Although Amherst led for more than 36 minutes of the contest, the Jeffs were never able to put the game out of reach. Junior Kevin Hopkins (Greenfield Center, NY) and reigning NESCAC Player of the Week Brian Baskauskas (Palo Alto, CA) led Amherst on a 7-0 run to give the Jeffs a 14-6 lead, but the Panthers cut the deficit to three points when senior Chris Dowd knocked down a three-pointer just 1:17 later.

Some hot shooting and key offensive rebounds let the Jeffs pull ahead 24-17 with 7:36 remaining in the half, but early Amherst foul trouble allowed the Panthers to climb back into the game one free throw at a time, as Middlebury went on a 6-0 run after shooting six-for-six from the line to pull within one point. Wheeler ended the Amherst scoring drought with a jumper, but Smith responded with another lay-up for Middlebury.

With 3:56 remaining in the first half, Olson put the Jeffs ahead 29-25 when he used a crossover to leave his defender in the dust, giving himself enough room to get settled and knock down a three-pointer as the shot clock expired, beginning a timely 8-0 Amherst run. After Middlebury called a timeout to gain composure and stop the Amherst momentum before halftime, the Panthers were able to close out the half on a 4-0 run to head into the locker room trailing 34-29.

Both teams struggled to connect from beyond the arc in the first half, as the Panthers knocked down only one of six three-point attempts, with the Jeffs not faring much better, shooting at just 18.2% (2-11) in the opening frame. Amherst’s biggest struggle came at the free throw line, from where the Jeffs shot a mere 28.6% (2-7) compared to the Panthers’ 90.9% (10-11).

Hopkins and Wheeler opened the second half by combining for Amherst’s first nine points, with a Wheeler three-pointer putting the Jeffs ahead 43-34 just over two minutes into the half. Three minutes later, Amherst took its largest lead of the game when Baskauskas picked up a steal and found a wide-open Hopkins at the other end. The 6’10 junior shook the hoop with a powerful two-handed dunk that sent the Amherst crowd into an uproar, as the Jeffs pulled ahead 50-40 with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.

Junior Andrew Harris pulled the Panthers back into the game, knocking down three-pointers on consecutive Middlebury possessions to cut the deficit to four points. The lead did not grow to larger than six points for the remainder of the game, as Middlebury was able to match every Amherst possession with some hot shooting of its own. Over a four-minute span, the Panthers shot nine-for-nine from the floor to trail the Jeffs 72-71 with just under five minutes remaining in the half.

Wheeler stepped up once again for his team, as the quad-captain buried a jumper to bring the lead to three points and then a three-pointer on the Jeffs’ next possession to take a 77-71 lead with just 2:41 remaining. The Panthers would shoot just one-for-seven the rest of the way, allowing Amherst to pick up its 16th consecutive win of the season, as the Lord Jeffs pulled off the 79-73 victory.

The Jeffs shot 54.8% from the floor, 36.4% from three-point land, and 87.5% from the free throw line in the second half, all significant improvements from the first half.

Hopkins led all scorers with a career-high 21 points (8-10 FG), but his presence in the paint was just as impressive, as he pulled down eight rebounds and blocked four shots. Wheeler finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocks, while Olson added 13 points and eight assists. Senior Tim McLaughlin (Chatham, NJ) played tenacious defense as usual, as the senior quad-captain picked up three steals to go along with his six points and five rebounds.

Four Panthers finished in double figures; senior Evan Thompson knocked down all seven of his free throw attempts en route to a 19-point performance, sophomore Ben Rudin chipped in with 17 points, Harris added 11 points and Smith rounded out the group with 10 points.

Amherst’s 16-0 start is the best in program history; the last time the Jeffs had a chance to move to 16-0 was during the 2003-04 season, when archrival Williams College snapped the winning streak with an overtime victory in Williamstown, Mass. Amherst returns to action Saturday for a NESCAC match-up with Williams at 4 p.m. in LeFrak Gymnasium.