Amherst men come to Williamstown, hand Williams an 84-79 loss
With a minute, 20 seconds left, Amherst's Fru Che dunked, giving the Mammoths a 12-point lead. But in this Little Three rivalry, no lead is truly safe.
Williams cut that lead to three twice in the final 20 seconds, but the Ephs could not get a tying basket as visiting Amherst escaped with an 84-79 win Friday night, before a packed house at Chandler Gym.
Three-point baskets by Henry Feinberg and Bobby Casey helped keep Williams (19-4, 6-3 in NESCAC) within striking distance, but Amherst (19-3, 6-2) went 8 for 10 from the foul line in the last 36 seconds to help keep the Ephs at bay.
"It's always a battle with Amherst," Eph forward Henry Feinberg said. "It's always going to be a battle. We definitely showed a lot of fight out of our group."
There is no such thing as a "good loss," and nobody on the Williams side would say that. The players did, however, agree with the assessment that coming back from a 12-point deficit in the final minute and having a chance to tie is something they can build on.
"I think the overall message is that we fought really, really hard in a great environment here," said Williams guard Bobby Casey, who had a game-high 29 points. "I think for a little bit in the second half, they made some tough shots and I think that affected our energy. For the most part, I'm really proud of our effort.
"Credit to them. They made some really difficult shots and got some stops when they needed to."
The win gives Amherst the outright Little Three championship. It also marked the eighth straight time Amherst has beaten Williams in the NESCAC conference game.
With the loss, Williams slides into third in the NESCAC standings. Middlebury, an 80-79 winner over Hamilton, takes sole possession of first place. The Panthers will host Amherst on Saturday. Hamilton comes to Williams for a Senior Day matinee, and a win by the Ephs would likely give coach Kevin App's team a quarterfinal home game.
"We haven't been in this situation [this year] where we dropped the first game" of a NESCAC weekend, App said. "So, we've got to see how this group responds. We've been in this situation before. It's reminiscent of last year. I think they'll be fired up to honor the six seniors with intensity and emotion."
Williams took a lead in the first half on a 3-point basket by James Heskett, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the opening stanza. Williams led by as many as seven in the first half and by 40-35 at halftime.
Casey hit a floater in the lane to open the second half, but from that point, coach Dave Hixon's squad went on a 10-5 run. It was a two-point game after Devonn Allen scored on a put-back of Che's 3-point miss.
"I told them to play some [bleeping] defense," said Hixon, when asked what his halftime message was. "We had to close the game. They were going underneath. You can't go under on really good shooters. You have to get over the top."
Feinberg, who had 11 points and was one of four Ephs to score in double figures, rebounded a miss by Casey and converted for a three-point play. That gave Williams a 50-45 lead. It was, however, the last high point for the Ephs until the final seconds.
Grant Robinson, who had 18 points to lead Amherst, made the second of two foul shots and Hixon called time out with 13:51 left. From there, the Mammoths went on a 23-4 run while Williams was a frosty 2 for 10 from the floor with three turnovers.
And when Che (15 points) drained a 3-ball with 6:10 left, the Mammoths had turned a seven-point deficit into a 14-point lead.
"We've played game 23, so we've seen everything. We've seen shots go in and not go in," said App. "We keep trying to get good ones."
Che's dunk with 1:20 left in the second half put Amherst up 12, and it seemed like a lost night. Especially after Heskett slipped, and had to be helped off the court.
Feinberg made a 3-point basket, his first of two, and that started Williams on a comeback run. His second came with 21.8 seconds left, catching a pass from Casey in the right corner. When it splashed through, the 12-point lead was now 79-76 and App called time out with 21.8 seconds left.
If Heskett is out for any length of time, Feinberg's 11-point output could auger well for Williams down the road.
"Henry's been playing great," App said. 'We want him to step up and shoot those shots with confidence."
"It's nice see shots go in," said Feinberg. "What's great about our group is make or miss, all 16 of them are there to pick you up. Credit to Bob for making the great pass, and I was lucky [the 3-pointer] went in."
Robinson was 6 for 8 from the line in the final 40 seconds to keep Williams at arm's length. Casey hit a 3 with 9 seconds left, and it was 82-79. Day answered with two from the line accounting for the final score.
Kyle Scadlock had 17 points for Williams. Amherst's bench outscored Williams 30-2, with Day getting 14.
Amherst outrebounded Williams 44-33, 29-20 on the defensive glass.
But Williams shot only 36 percent from the floor in the second half, after shooting 46.7 percent in the first half.
"I'm sure we'll look at the film and have to tighten some things up, like always," said App. "It was a great atmosphere, a great environment. You take that as a fun Williams-Amherst game, and then you let it go, come out tomorrow and compete."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.