AMHERST — It was turnabout is fair play night on David Hixon Court. The Williams College men hit the road for a Little Three matchup against Amherst. Twelve days after Amherst came into Williamstown and got away with a win, the 20th-ranked Ephs returned the favor here.
“When we play Amherst, it’s always going to be a dogfight because there’s so much history between the two schools,” Williams center Nate Karren said, after the Ephs held off Amherst 60-54 Wednesday night.
“I think we were really well-prepared defensively and we had a good strategy against their offensive actions,” he said. “We just kind of executed.”
Karren scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in a second half that saw Williams, which led by 12 in the first half, open up a 11-point lead four minutes into the second half. The Mammoths did fight back and when Great Barrington’s Noah Helmke hit a 3-point basket with 11:18 left, the Mammoths had erased all of the deficit to tie the game at 40-40.
This has been a legit heavyweight fight. Each time the Mammoths land a haymaker, Williams responds with one of its own. It's 54-50 Ephs, 3:33 left. They'll have the ball out of the Kevin App-called time out.— Howard Herman (@howardherman) January 20, 2022
Williams’ Jovan Jones missed on the Ephs’ next trip down court, but Karren turned over Amherst center Will Scherer. He tapped the ball ahead to Spencer Spivy, who found Declan Porter in transition and the first-year drained a 3-point shot from the left of the key, giving the Ephs a lead they would not relinquish.
After coach Kevin App called time, Camin Reynolds threw the ball away. Williams almost had an empty possession, however Porter won a loose-ball battle, tipping the ball to Karren, who dropped in a 3-pointer just as the shot clock ran out. That made it 46-40 with 9:38 left. While the Mammoths did cut the Williams lead to three points twice, the Eph defense held Amherst to one basket over the final three minutes to lock up the victory.
“I thought the first time we played Amherst, when they made a couple of runs, we let it become a longer run by getting frustrated and trying to do too much, instead of just doing with we’re supposed to be doing,” App said. “Tonight, I think we kept our poise and just kept being determined to get great shots, and guys made the shots they need to make. Declan hits a three to quell their run and put us back up to six. Nate hit big shot after big shot. And Cole [Prowitt-Smith] closes it out for us.”
With the win, the 20th-ranked Ephs improve to 13-1. Amherst falls to 10-5.
Cole Prowitt-Smith and Spivy each had nine points for the Ephs. Grant Robinson had 13 of his 17 points in the first half for Amherst. Garrett Day added 12 for the Mammoths.
The win gives Williams a small leg up in the battle for the Little Three. The Ephs are 2-1, having split with Amherst and beaten Wesleyan on the road. If Williams wins at home on Feb. 4, it would give the Ephs their second consecutive Little Three title. They won the title in 2019-20, and the previous title came in 2009-10.
It's a final. Williams 60, Amherst 54. Ephs even the season series with the Mammoths.— Howard Herman (@howardherman) January 20, 2022
Williams heads back to NESCAC conference play on Saturday afternoon, when the Ephs host 14-2 Middlebury. The Panthers will bring a 12-game winning streak into Chandler Gym.
For first-year Amherst coach Marlon Sears, so far, the Little Three was everything it was cracked up to be.
“It’s funny. Kevin App and I have known each other for a long time. When I first got the job, the first thing he said was this was going to be fun,” Sears said. “As I see this, it’s fun but it’s also heartbreaking.”
Playing in front of a good-sized number of students but with only one side of the bleachers pulled out, the Mammoths took a 7-5 lead on a top-of-the key shot by Dan Schlakman. Williams responded with 12 straight points and went on a 24-8 run before Sears called a time out. The time out seemed to settle the Mammoths, who held the Ephs without a basket for the final four minutes of the half. It was 30-24 at intermission.
Williams opened the second half by outscoring Amherst 7-2, and seemed to have the game in hand. The Mammoths responded with a 14-3 run and when Helmke caught a pass from Reynolds, his former Berkshire School classmate, and swished a 3-ball, the game was tied. In a Williams-Amherst game, that means anything could happen.
What did happen was every time Amherst got within three or four points, Williams answered. The Ephs held the Mammoths to one basket over the final 3:42, and that came when Day got inside with 22.4 seconds left, a hoop that cut the Eph lead to six. The home team got no closer. And when Prowitt-Smith hit a short jumper from the right baseline as the 35-second clock expired, the Ephs had their win.
“I think coming down the stretch, they made the plays, they made the big shots,” Sears. “You have to take your hat off to Cole Prowitt-Smith and some of the other guys that really stepped up and made plays down the stretch.”
The win marked the seventh time Williams held an opponent under 60 points in a victory.
“I think this was the best game-plan defensive effort,” said App. “I think we’ve had some phenomenal defensive games, defensive numbers, but those are more conceptual games. This one, we had a game plan, and I think they stuck to it and that was the first time this group had to do that. It’s the unique challenge and part of what we get playing Amherst and Wesleyan a second time is you get to go through watching yourself against them, instead of watching other people and learning from it.