HARTFORD, Conn. – In a game of runs, the fifth-seeded Amherst College men's basketball team fell short of its fourth straight conference title as it dropped a thrilling 74-70 overtime game in the 2015 NESCAC Championship final to Little Three rival and sixth-seeded Wesleyan University at Oosting Gymnasium Sunday.
After defeating the Cardinals twice in the regular-season, the Jeffs fell short of the sweep as they drop to 20-7 overall while Wesleyan improved to 19-8. Sunday's contest was the second overtime championship game in NESCAC history. Amherst was in the first one as well, as it defeated Tufts in 2006, 94-86. The Purple & White are now 33-8 all-time in the conference tournament, following four straight championship appearances, and Wesleyan improved to 6-8.
Eric Conklin '17 led all scorers with a career-high 19 points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting and also grabbed seven rebounds. Jacob Nabatoff '17 joined him in double-figures with 12, while Johnn McCarthy '18 added 10. Nabatoff was also perfect from the field and went 5-for-5 overall and 2-for-2 from downtown, and led the team in rebounding with nine boards. Jayde Dawson '18 rounded out a terrific tournament run with 14 points including a game-high five assists.
Four players scored in double-figures for Wesleyan, who was led by Jack Mackey's 18. He went 6-for-13 from beyond the arc. Raship Epps, Joseph Kuo and BJ Davis added 14, 12 and 12, respectively. Epps registered a double-double with 11 rebounds as well.
The Cardinals came out hot to start the game as a three-pointer by Mackey jumpstarted a 10-2 run over the first 2:13 of play. Amherst cut the deficit to four shortly after following a trey from Nabatoff, but a 7-2 run by Wesleyan gave the sixth-seed a 19-10 lead with 11:45 to play.
Trailing by nine, a lay-up by Green opened up a 15-0 run over the next four minutes as Conklin capped of the spurt with a bucket at the 6:51 mark, giving Amherst a 25-19 lead. However, after another Conklin lay-up seconds later put the Jeffs up 27-23, Wesleyan closed out the half on a 13-0 run to give the Cardinals a 36-27 lead at the break.
Conklin and Davis lead all scorers with 10 each in the first half. McCarthy added seven for Amherst and Epps scored six for the Cardinals. The Jeffs shot 36.4% (12-33) from the floor and were just 16.7% (2-12) from downtown. Wesleyan went 50.0% (14-28) from the floor and 38.5% (5-13) from three-point range.
The Cardinals extended their lead to 11 just nine seconds into the second half following a lay-up by Joe Edmonds. After a three-pointer by Green cut the deficit to six shortly after, Mackey connected on two three-pointers on Wesleyan's next two possessions to regain a double-digit lead, up 44-34 with 18:36 to play.
The Purple & White slowly cut into the deficit and a foul shot by Dawson at the 8:04 mark knotted the game at 54-54. Minutes later, a deep three-pointer by Mackey lifted the Cardinals lead to three but a huge dunk by Nabatoff on the Jeffs ensuing possession cut the deficit to one and evened the momentum.
Davis retaliated with a lay-up on the other end of the court before Dawson hit one from deep to tie the score at 61-61 with 5:21 to play. Both teams exchanged baskets shortly after and were held scoreless the remaining 3:35 to play as they entered the overtime period tied at 63-63.
Mackey ended the drought 2:46 into play with a three-pointer, followed by a dunk from Kuo on Wesleyan's next possession as it took a 68-63 lead. Dawson cut the deficit to two on a lay-up with 12 seconds to play, and after the Cardinals hit one-of-two foul shots, Amherst had a chance to tie the game in the final nine seconds of play but were unable to hit from downtown as the Cardinals claimed the 74-70 win.
Amherst shot 42.0% (29-69) for the game and just 20.0% (6-30) from downtown, while shooting 75.% (6-8) from the charity stripe. Wesleyan went 43.5% (27-62) from the field, 37.0% (10-27) from three-point range and 66.7% (10-15) from the line. The Jeffs held a 44-36 advantage in rebounding and 4-1 edge in blocks. Both teams recorded 13 assists, while Amherst turned the ball over nine times and Wesleyan turned it over eight.
The Jeffs await their NCAA tournament fate when the bracket is announced tomorrow, March 2 at 12:30 p.m.