CLINTON, N.Y. – Amherst College clinched the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) men's basketball championship for a record eighth time with a 62-56 victory over Hamilton College on Sunday afternoon.
The third-seeded and No. 13 ranked Mammoths (23-4) knocked off #2 seed Hamilton (23-4) to complete their run to the championship, their first since 2014. Amherst also clinches the NESCAC automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, ensuring their 20th appearance in the national dance.
Eleven days after Hamilton defeated the Mammoths 81-77 on the same court to prevent Amherst from getting the top seed in the postseason, the Mammoths returned the favor by holding the Continentals to their lowest scoring game of the year, nearly 30 points under their season average.
In their three-game playoff run, Amherst held their opponents to just 60.33 points per game. They are among the leaders in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 63.6 points per game on the year.
The defensive efforts forced the Continentals into just 3-18 shooting from behind the three-point line (16.7%). On the offensive end, Fru Che '21 and Grant Robinson '21 completed their outstanding tournament offensive displays with a game-high 16 points apiece. Che had eight rebounds while senior Joseph Schneider grabbed ten boards as Amherst led 48-37 on the glass, including 15-9 on the offensive side.
Schneider also had three blocks on the day and finishes the tournament with 11 rejections, one shy of the NESCAC tournament record. Robinson handed out four assists and grabbed two steals and Che scooped eight boards and had two rejections.
The Mammoths led by just a point with 4:40 but opened up a seven-point advantage after Che and Devonn Allen '22 connected on three-pointers on subsequent possessions.
Allen scored 14 points and added six rebounds, two steals and an assist in the win. He and Che hit three three-pointers apiece for Amherst, who went 7-21 from downtown. C.J. Bachmann '19 came off the bench to score ten points on 5-8 shooting as Amherst shot 36.4% for the game.
Hamilton was led by 15 points from Peter Hoffmann and 13 points from Kena Gilmour. Gilmour and Michael Grassey each grabbed nine rebounds and each barely missed a double-double, as Grassey scored ten points as well.
Hamilton's Mark Lutz was fouled taking a three-pointer with a minute and a half to play and knocked down all three attempts to pull the hosts back to within four. After a block by Nick Osarenren, Hoffman grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup and the difference was two points with a minute to play.
Hamilton forced an offensive foul and got the ball back with a chance to tie, but the Amherst defense forced a missed layup by Gilmour and Bachmann grabbed the loose ball. Garrett Day '21 and Robinson were 4-4 from the foul line down as Amherst held on to claim the title.
Che was 4-5 from the field and 2-2 from downtown in the first half, when Amherst shot 43% from the field and 45.5% from three. The Mammoths held the largest lead of the game, nine points, with two and a half to play before the break, and were up 36-31 when the teams went to the locker room.
Amherst did not trail the entire second half, though Hamilton got to within a point on two occasions, the first at 43-42 when a Hoffman layup capped an 11-3 run at the 13:17 mark and again when Amherst led 52-51 at the four-minute mark.
Hamilton was looking for their first NESCAC title and were in their first championship game. The Mammoths won three straight champonships from 2012-2014 and were national champions in 2013.
Both of these teams were considered locks for an at-large bid into next week's NCAA tournament, but only Amherst is now assured that their ticket is punched. The postseason fate and future opponents and sites of competition will be announced on Monday afternoon's NCAA selection show. More information on Amherst's NCAA placement will be available on athletics.amherst.edu as soon as it is available.