In a packed LeFrak Gymnasium, the men’s basketball team opened its NESCAC tournament run with a thrilling victory over Williams by a final score of 89-86. The Mammoths couldn’t crack the Ephs in their first two meetings during the regular season, losing both games by a combined five points but triumphed on Saturday in front of a raucous crowd.
The game was back and forth from the opening tip, as neither team found any separation for the first ten minutes, until the Ephs went on a 10-0 run with 7:50 remaining in the first half. They were able to maintain a large lead for a good portion of the half, extending it all the way to 15 points with 3:26 left on the clock, until the Mammoths went on a run of their own, led by Garret Day ’21, to cut the lead to just two going into halftime.
The highlight of the run came with just 32 seconds remaining in the half, when Day was able to sink a three while being fouled and subsequently cashed in on the free throw for a four-point play.
Momentum was clearly on the Mammoths side to start the second half, as Eric Sellew ’20 jumped in a passing lane and finished the fast break with an emphatic one-handed slam within the first minute, electrifying the Mammoths bench and crowd and giving the team their first lead since the 10 minute mark of the first half.
The Ephs managed to go on another run of their own to gain a seven point lead, but the Mammoths battled back and managed to take the lead with a score of 78-75 with under a minute to go.
With only three seconds left and Williams with possession, the Mammoths fouled the Ephs to send them to the line. After making the first free throw, the Ephs missed the second but were able to corral the offensive rebound and hit a layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
As with the other two stanzas, the beginning of overtime played out much the same, with teams trading baskets back and forth. Tides seemed to shift 2:35 into the OT period with a near identical play from Sellew, who intercepted a pass and threw down another one-handed dunk on the fast break to give Amherst a four point lead. Josh Chery ’20 came in clutch down the line, sinking two pivotal free throws with just 19 seconds on the clock to extend the Mammoth lead to three.
The Ephs had the final shot but could not convert on a deep three that hit the back rim and was secured by Chery, who dished it to Day to run out the rest of the clock for a Mammoths victory.
Day led the way for the Mammoths with his first career double-double, notching a game high 24 points shooting 50% from three and gathering 12 boards to go along with his scoring. Chery picked up his second double-double on the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Grant Robinson ’21 added 13 points coming off the bench.
Fru Che ’21 Sellew and also hit double digit point totals, with 11 and 10 points respectively.
The Mammoths now look ahead to their semifinal bout with Colby this Saturday, Feb. 29 at Tufts.
Colby is the higher seed, coming in ranked second in the NESCAC while Amherst holds the number three seed, but Amherst handled business in the only meeting between the two teams during the regular season, winning by a margin of 18 points.
Colby had some trouble in its quarterfinal game, needing three overtimes to defeat seventh ranked Bates. The winner will go on to face the winner of the Tufts-Trinity game in the championship game the next day, on Sunday, March 1.