Jeffs Cruise Past Williams, 85-67, in NESCAC Quarterfinals

February 20, 2001

AMHERST, Mass. - Behind a game-high 18 points from sophomore forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) and a 15-point, career-high 11-assist effort from senior tri-captain Brian Daoust (Dover, MA), the fourth-seeded Amherst College men's basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the inaugural NESCAC Tournament with an 85-67 victory over fifth-seeded Williams College on Tuesday night. The Jeffs (19-5), who complete a regular and post-season sweep of their arch-rivals for the first time in school history, will meet second-seeded Colby College in Friday night's semifinals at top-seeded Trinity College. 

After the two teams shot poorly in the first half of the Jeffs' 59-57 win in Amherst on January 19, both teams came out of the gates with hot shooting in Tuesday's quarterfinal, with a jumper from Williams guard Andrew Conley (Wakefield, MA) putting the Ephs up 17-16 at the 11:33-mark of the opening half. With starters Ryan Faulkner (Lebanon, NH) and Zieja both on the bench with two fouls, a three-point play from junior Amherst reserve Pat Taverna (Whitesboro, NY) ignited a 17-0 Jeff run, with six different Amherst players contributing. First-year guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC) helped energize the stretch with three of his game-high four steals, as the Jeffs opened up a 33-17 lead on a pair of Erik Kelly (Staples, MN) free throws with 4:56 before halftime. 

Williams senior Manny Benjamin (Harare, Zimbabwe), who had a terrific game inside, stopped the bleeding with a lay-up for two of his 13 first-half points, but the Ephs could only traded buckets with the Jeffs down the stretch, and Amherst took a 39-23 lead into the locker rooms, shooting a scalding 15-25 (60.0 percent) from the field. 

The Ephs, who shot only 10-30 (33.3 percent) from the field in the first 20 minutes, came out with a short run to open the second half, closing to within 10 on a Benjamin free throw 3:25 after the half. The Jeffs, however, answered each Williams run in the second half, answering their early spurt with a pair of Zieja three-pointers. After Amherst opened up a 20-point lead at the 9:04-mark (62-42), Williams rattled off eight straight points, including three-pointers from Crotty and sophomore Tim Folan (Kensington, MD), to close to within 12, 62-50, with 7:36 left. 

After the Williams run, the Jeffs turned to an unlikely source-senior tri-captain Abe Sexson (Athens, Greece)-to slow down the Eph post game. Sexson, who would finish with a career-high six blocks, posted two rejections as part of an 8-0 run that pushed the Jeff lead back to 18, 72-54, with 4:22 remaining, before the hosts would ice the game from the free-throw line. The Jeffs, who finished a season-best 25-28 (89.3 percent) from the charity stripe, converted eight consecutive free throws to open up a 22-point lead, 79-57, with 2:48 to go. From there, both teams emptied their benches, with reserve first-year John Kloepfer (Buffalo, NY) draining a three-pointer with 62 seconds left to give the Jeffs their largest lead of the game, 85-61, before Williams scored six unanswered points in the final minute. 

For Amherst, Zieja led four players in double-figures with 18 points in only 19 minutes, finishing five-of-six from the field and three-of-four from downtown. Daoust handed out a career-best 11 assists against one turnover to offset a poor shooting night, finishing with 15 points, Kelly added a solid 15 points, including an 8-8 night from the foul line, and Harper turned in 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals. 

The Ephs were led by Benjamin, who turned in a stellar 18-point, eight-rebound night, and Folan, who finished with 17 points despite shooting 5-16 from the field. Amherst played solidly inside as well, led by the duo of Sexson and sophomore Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC), who combined for 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. The Jeffs, who finish their first-ever regular-season and post-season sweep of the Ephs, shot 26-49 from the field for the game, including an 8-17 performance from downtown (6-9 in the second half). 

With the win, Amherst advances to the semifinals of the inaugural NESCAC Tournament, where they will play the White Mules on Friday night at Trinity in a rematch of last Saturday's 66-49 Amherst victory in Maine. Colby knocked off seventh-seeded Middlebury College in one of Tuesday's quarterfinals by a 54-49 final, while sixth-seeded Connecticut College upset third-seeded Wesleyan University, 80-72, to draw a semifinal against the Bantams. 

The Jeffs have now won six straight home games against Williams, and have won six of the last seven meetings overall. Williams, who finishes the 2000-01 season with a record of 18-7, still leads the all-time series 105-72.

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