January 6, 2001
AMHERST, MA - Crisp passing and dominant play in the frontcourt helped the Amherst College men's basketball team down visiting Western New England College 96-79 in a rematch of last year's first round NCAA Tournament matchup Saturday afternoon at LeFrak Gymnasium. Sophomore forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) scored a team-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds, while senior center Abe Sexson (Athens, Greece) added a pair of career-highs with 14 points and 10 boards to lead Amherst.
The host Jeffs opened the game with hot-shooting, jumping out to an 11-4 lead on the strength of a 7-0 run off the opening tip, but the Golden Bears battled back and cut the lead to 21-20 on a jumper by senior center Eric Stewart (Fort Montgomery, NY). That was as close as the visitors would get, however, as Amherst went on a 22-5 run and went into the locker room leading 51-37 after shooting a scorching 57.1% (20-for-35) from the field in the first half.
After the break, the Jeffs would lead by as many as 22 points with Sexson hitting a running one-hander to give the Jeffs 70-49 lead with just under 12 minutes remaining. Western New England refused to surrender, cut the gap to 81-71 on a pair of free-throws from freshman guard Chris Conley (South Portland, ME) with 3:20 remaining. The Jeffs then rebounded to hit their free-throws down the stretch to seal the win, connecting on 22-of-25 from the charity stripe for the game.
The game was a rematch of last spring's first-round NCAA Tournament game, in which the Jeffs squeaked out a 79-77 home victory. Strong play from Amherst's corps of big men prevented this year's game from getting that close, as the Jeffs held Golden Bear forward Lew Larrabee (Worcester, MA) scoreless and on the bench in foul trouble for much of the game. Last March, Larrabee led Western New England with 17 points in their NCAA loss to the Jeffs.
Excellent ball-movement was another key to Amherst's performance, as the Jeffs had 30 assists on 33 field goals. Sophomore point guard Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH) tied his season-high with 12 assists while adding 11 points, and senior co-captains Erik Kelly (Staples, MN) and Brian Daoust (Dover, MA) added 8 and 6 assists apiece, while scoring 15 and 12 points, respectively. Stewart scored a game-high 29 points for the Golden Bears in the losing effort.
The Jeffs move to 7-1 with the win, and await next Saturday's showdown at archival Williams College. WNEC fell to 3-4, and begin their league schedule on Tuesday against Albertus Magnus.
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