AMHERST, Mass. – There were lots of reasons to celebrate at LeFrak Gymnasium on Saturday afternoon, as the Amherst College men's basketball team defeated No. 5 Middlebury College 80-68 on Senior Day to clinch the number one seed in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and hand legendary coach Dave Hixon his 800th career win.
The Mammoths (16-8, 7-3 NESCAC) came into the weekend in the middle of a very competitive NESCAC standings, but in less than 24 hours knocked off a pair of Top-Ten teams and come out of a five-team logjam at the top of the conference with the best head to head record against the other four teams (3-1).
Hixon, in his 41st season, with the Mammoths, is the third-most winningest coach in Division 3 men's basketball history. He has a career record of 800-287, but says that the team's two wins this weekend were far more important than the individual milestone.
In addition, seniors Mike Riopel, Johnny McCarthy and Christien Wright were honored before the game and presented flowers to their parents and family members. Riopel and McCarthy both went on to score in double-figures in the win, while an injured Wright has been a key part of the Mammoth's success this year as a volunteer student assistant coach.
Riopel led the way with 17 points and McCarthy collected a double-double with eleven points and 14 rebounds, as five different players scored in double-figures for the Mammoths.
Amherst led nearly the entire game, getting in front on a jumper by Fru Che '21 with just two minutes gone and not looking back. They used a 16-0 run to turn a 16-14 lead into a 32-14 edge, and the lead stayed in double-digits until the final two minutes of the second half, when a furious Middlebury (19-5, 7-3 NESCAC) comeback ran out of time.
Dylan Groff '19 came off the bench with ten points, and he was 4-5 from the floor and 2-3 from long range, helping Amherst to a 48% shooting percentage in the first half and a 44% mark for the game.
The home team also had a 60-34 edge in rebounding, with Che just missing a double-double with nine rebounds to go with 13 points, and Joseph Schneider '19 grabbing seven boards while scoring 13 points, grabbing two steals and blocking three shots.
Most of Middlebury's scoring came from Jack Farrell, who netted 22 points and handed out four assists. Jack Daly, who leads the conference in assists, handed out six helpers and scored six points, while leading the team with nine rebounds. Daly also entered the 1,000 point club in the final regular season game of his Middlebury career.
The official seeding for the 2017-18 NESCAC basketball tournaments will be announced on Sunday evening after one final conference game between Tufts and Trinity is played in the afternoon. As the No. 1 seed, Amherst will host a quarterfinals game next Saturday at LeFrak Gymnasium, and then will host the semifinals and championship game should they advance a week later.