December 3, 2002
AMHERST, MA - Amherst College men's basketball coach Dave Hixon '75 received a well-deserved 50th birthday present on Tuesday when his undefeated and 12th ranked Lord Jeffs, who hadn't beaten visiting Clark University since 1998, finally broke through with a 68-62 victory over the Cougars, snapping a string of four straight losses in the series.
Senior tri-captain forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) led the way with 32 points - just two shy of his career high - to go along with 10 rebounds, while classmate and fellow tri-captain Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) fell just one block shy of his second career triple-double with 11 points, 15 boards and nine blocks.
The win was a long time coming for Amherst. Clark's recent dominance over the Jeffs included a pair of overtime wins in 1999 and 2000, as well as an 89-76 victory in the second round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament that ended Amherst's season at 22-6. Furthermore, the Cougars have advanced to the NCAA "Elite Eight" in each of the last two years and entered this season ranked 19th nationally, making the latest installment of this heated rivalry no "gimme" for the Jeffs by any means.
Both teams played tight in the early going, especially Amherst, which committed 14 turnovers in the first half alone. Despite the shaky ball handling, the Jeffs trailed by just one point (28-27) at the break, thanks to a pair of Zieja free throws inside the final minute.
In the second half, after a layup by Zieja and a three-pointer by Clark senior Pat Oroszko (Boylston, MA), the Jeffs stampeded for a 13-0 run. Zieja poured in eight more points during the flurry and, just like that, Amherst found itself with a 42-31 lead with 12:27 remaining.
Undaunted, Clark used its trademark full-court pressure to claw its way back into the game. A trio of three-pointers by junior sharpshooter Dave McNamara (Worcester, MA) helped the Cougars reel in the Jeffs and eventually reclaim the lead, 60-55, with 3:36 on the clock.
Amherst countered with a huge three-pointer by junior guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC) off a penetration and kick-out by classmate John Donovan (Holmdel, NJ), and the momentum seemed to swing back toward the Jeffs. Donovan then stripped Clark senior Rob Skowyra (Ware, MA) and flipped an errant runner off the glass that Fitzsimons rebounded and hammered home with two hands, seemingly knotting the score at 60-60. The basket was waived off, however, thanks to a questionable offensive foul call on Fitzsimons, which led to a layup by Clark senior Sean Fleming (Smithfield, RI) and a four-point swing for the Cougars.
After a missed three-pointer by Amherst senior tri-captain point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH), Clark appeared to have the game well in hand. But in a microcosm of things to come, Clark junior Trevor Walker (Milford, MA) slashed to the bucket for what appeared to be a wide-open layup. Instead of giving his team a six-point lead, however, Fitzsimons swatted Walker off the glass and the Jeffs were back in business. Zieja drilled three straight free throws to cut the deficit to just one point and then hit a layup off a nifty feed from Faulkner to give the hosts a 63-62 lead they would never relinquish.
For good measure, Harper sealed the win in the final 20 seconds with a dagger of a three-pointer and a pair of charity tosses, upping Amherst's record to 4-0 and handing Clark (1-2) its second straight loss.
Harper joined Zieja and Fitzsimons in double figures with 10 points. Faulkner chipped in with a game-high six assists, while Donovan scratched and clawed for six rebounds. Amherst used 15-for-18 shooting from the free throw line to help overcome its 23 turnovers. The Jeffs also outrebounded Clark 45-26, including a 17-8 advantage on the offensive glass.
McNamara paced Clark with 21 points on the strength of six three-pointers. Fleming added 11 points and four assists.
Amherst returns to action this Friday and Saturday, hosting Springfield College, Westfield State and Western New England in the Second-Annual Pioneer Valley Classic.
Box Score & Play-by-Play
12th Ranked Jeffs Hand Hixon Birthday Present, Outlast Clark 68-62
December 3, 2002