AMHERST -- The battle for the NESCAC men’s basketball championship came down to the final 20 minutes in LeFrak Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon. In those 20 minutes, Williams couldn’t match Amherst.
Tom Killian scored a game-high 31 points and Aaron Toomey had a triple-double as the top-seeded Lord Jeffs pulled away from No. 2 Ephs 93-82 to claim their third consecutive conference tournament title.
"In the first half, we really committed to defending and also sharing the ball," said Williams forward Taylor Epley. "In the second half, we got in a rush once we got down [on the scoreboard], myself included. We took some bad shots all in a row and we didn’t get back and rebound like we should have."
Epley finished with 16 points and freshman Duncan Robinson led Williams with 26 points.
It was a game where the Ephs led by as many as nine points in the first half and led 45-44 at halftime. Amherst’s David Kalema hit a 3-point shot to put the Lord Jeffs up 47-45 on the first possession of the second half, and the home team never trailed again.
"It means a lot to us. They’re our biggest rivals," said Killian, whose team went 3-0 against Williams for the second straight year. "These are the games we look forward to the most."
After Williams rallied from 13 points down to beat Middlebury in a Saturday semifinal, Williams head coach Mike Maker said he didn’t know how much gas would be left in the tank. In the minutes after Sunday’s loss, the Williams coach said that wasn’t the problem.
"I thought we played with heart and spirit and played very well. We lost to an elite team on their home court," said Maker. "I thought we went toe-to-toe with them for 40 minutes. We didn’t run out of gas. They’re just very good."
Both teams played outstanding first halves. Williams led by a point, shot 55 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent (6 of 11) from 3-point range. The Lord Jeffs shot 48.3 percent from the floor in the first half and were 8 of 16 from behind the arc.
Logic dictates that can’t continue for 40 minutes. It didn’t for one team, and that team was Williams.
Amherst held Williams to 41 percent shooting in the second half but allowed the Ephs to make only one of 12 shots from behind the arc. That figure was particularly telling because the Ephs came into the tournament as the best 3-point shooting team in NESCAC and shot it 30 percentage points higher than the Lord Jeffs.
"We just needed to shore some things up on defense," said Toomey. "Offensively, we were fine. We scored 44 points and that’s a lot of points in a half."
Williams did fight back and tie the game at 56 on an Epley drive to the hoop with 15:26 left in the game. Connor Green, who had 21 points, hit a 3-pointer to put the Lord Jeffs up again. Epley missed a trey, David George rebounded and then he scored on a putback off a miss by Kalema. The Ephs did cut the lead to two points, but couldn’t get the shot they needed.
"You have to give credit to their defense. They did a good job," said Epley, when asked about his team going 1 for 12. "We were rushed on offense the whole time."
The closest Williams got down the stretch was 74-71 after Mike Mayer (10 points) hit two free throws with 8:41 left. The Lord Jeffs used a 13-2 run after that to pull away.
Amherst’s Toomey, the hands-down favorite to be NESCAC player of the year, had his first triple-double since high school. The guard, a doppelganger for the "Ollie" character from the movie "Hoosiers" had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. It was his first triple-double since high school in Greensboro, N.C.
So, while Amherst got to cut down the nets and celebrate in its gym, Williams will wait with the conference champs to find out when and where it will play in the NCAA Division III tournament. The brackets will be unveiled this afternoon.
"I’m really proud of where we’re at. I’m confident we’ll get an NCAA bid," said Maker. "Everybody will be 0-0 come next week."
To reach Howard Herman:
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