AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College men's basketball team will play on championship weekend after the third-seeded Mammoths defeated #6 Wesleyan University 63-56 in a New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon at LeFrak Gymnasium.
Fru Che '21 scored a career-high 30 points on 11-18 shooting and 4-9 from three-point range as the 11th ranked Mammoths (21-4) advance to the semifinals for the second straight year and the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
The Mammoths will face Williams in next weekend's semifinal on Saturday on the campus of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. The other semifinal features the #2 seed Continentals against #8 Tufts, with the winners meeting Sunday for the conference championship. Game times are still to be determined.
Amherst opened the second half with an 11-0 run to take the lead for good after a first half that featured six lead changes. Wesleyan charged back to within four in the final two minutes, but the hosts held on to win a rematch of last year's semifinals game at LeFrak.
Eric Sellew '20 scored nine points, grabbed eleven rebounds and filled the stat sheet with two assists, three blocks and three steals. He gave Amherst the lead with a layup in the first minute of the second half, then picked off passes on two straight possessions, finishing the first one off with a fast break layup, then feeding Che, who knocked down a triple, on the subsequent steal.
Grant Robinson '21 nailed a three-pointer and Joe Schneider '19 threw down a dunk and Amherst led 34-23 before three minutes had expired in the second half.
The lead would grow to 14 points near the midway point of the half and Amherst still led by 11 with 4:22 to play, before the Cardinals started to climb back in.
The visitors pulled to within six on a three-pointer by Antone Walker, who had nine points in the loss, then got to 58-54 on a pair of free-throws by Austin Hutcherson.
Amherst held Hutcherson, the leading scorer in the NESCAC (20.4 ppg), to just ten points on 3-17 shooting and 0-5 from behind the three-point line. He did dish out a game-high five assists.
Robinson hit four straight free throws after he grabbed a defensive rebound on a missed layup by Hutchison with seventeen seconds left in a five-point game. Robinson finished the night with 14 points, 12 of them in the second half, six rebounds and two steals.
Che had 16 of Amherst's 22 points in the first half, going 6-8 from the floor and 2-4 from behind the three-point line.
Each team's leading scorer was limited to just two points in the first half, with Hutcherson going 1-9 from the field and 0-4 from three and Robinson just 1-7 and 0-2. Robinson was the only player besides Che to make a field goal in the first half for Amherst, who shot 21.9% from the floor and 2-12 from three in the opening half. Wesleyan managed not much better, firing 26.5% from the field and 3-14 from three.
Sellew grabbed eight rebounds and had a pair of blocks in the first twenty minutes.
Robinson tied the game at two nearly three-minutes in with a layup and Che scored the next nine points as Amherst took an 11-2 lead, their largest of the half.
Amherst held Wesleyan to just six points in the opening ten minutes of play, and built a 13-6 lead before the Cardinals ripped off a 9-0 run, keeping Amherst off the scoreboard for more than three minutes and taking a lead on a three-pointer by Sam Peek with 7:35 left in the half.
Bonner had eleven points, eight rebounds a block and a steal, and he gave Wesleyan their largest lead of the period with an athletic offensive rebound and tip-in with 6:29 left before five straight points from Che gave Amherst the lead again.
The lead changed six times in the first half and settled at 23-22 Wesleyan as the teams hit the break.
Wesleyan ended the day with a 44-40 edge on the glass, as Bonner turned in a double-double with 13 rebounds. JR Bascom had 12 boards off the Cardinals bench.
Both teams finished the night shooting 33% from the floor, though Amherst made double the amount of three-pointers, six of them in the second half.