Top-Seeded Amherst Breezes Past Wesleyan in NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship Tournament

March 1, 2003 

AMHERST, MA - Preseason All-American senior forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) tallied game-highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead the top-seeded and 10th-ranked Amherst College men's basketball team to an 87-73 win over visiting No. 4 seed Wesleyan University in the semifinal round of the NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship Tournament on Saturday. The Jeffs will vie for their third straight conference championship Sunday at noon against visiting No. 2 seed Williams College, which advanced to the title game with a narrow 64-63 semifinal win over third-seeded Tufts University. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

Zieja led five Amherst players in double figures, followed by senior center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) with 19 points, junior guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC) with 15, fellow junior John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ) with 13 and rookie sharpshooter John Bedford (Ridgewood, NJ) with 10. Harper added seven boards and five steals, while sophomore point guard Ray Corrigan (Queens, NY) dished out a game-high nine assists off the bench. 

The Jeffs led by as many as nine in the first half, thanks in part to 8-0 run midway through the period. Harper keyed the barrage with a three-pointer from the corner and a reverse lay-in off a nifty feed from Corrigan, who handed out eight helpers in the first half alone. Wesleyan battled back to knot the score at 35-35 with 2:26 left before the break, however, courtesy of a 12-3 flurry, highlighted by a three-point play by junior forward Kanem Johnson (New Haven, CT). 

Amherst regained its composure and stretched the lead back to seven points on a pair of charity tosses by junior forward Tim Jones (Richmond, VA). But Wesleyan cut its halftime deficit to just five points, 43-38, when junior forward David Myrie (Queens, NY) tipped home a Johnson miss with five seconds remaining. 

A back-and-forth first half gave way to a more one-sided closing stanza, as Amherst stretched the lead to double digits with 11:36 left in regulation on a baby-hook by Fitzsimons, and expanded it to 18 points in the closing minutes. The Jeffs shot a scorching 59.3% (16-for-27) from the field after the break, including a 9-for-11 showing from inside the three-point arc. They also shared the ball well on offense, with 27 off their 33 field goals coming off assists. 

Wesleyan placed four players in double figures in defeat, led by junior guard Keala Mills' (Lenox, MA) 20 points. Johnson added 17 points and six boards, while senior guard Chris Bray (Montague, MA) chipped in with 16 points in his final collegiate game. The Cardinals finish their season at 14-10. 

Now 22-3 overall, Amherst will lock horns with third-ranked Williams for the third time on Sunday. The Jeffs handed Williams its only loss, 67-61, on January 25th in Amherst. The Ephs downed Amherst 74-65 in Williamstown on January 11th. 

The game will be Webcast live on the Internet by and by Amherst campus radio station WAMH

Box Score / Play-by-Play