Men’s Hoop: Panthers NESCAC Champs, Top Amherst 81-79

Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information

Hartford, CT. — Middlebury claimed its third NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship with an exciting 81-79 win over second-seeded Amherst in the title game played at Trinity. The back-and-forth game featured 23 lead changes and 10 ties. The fourth-seeded Panthers earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will make their sixth trip in the last eight years when the pairings are announced Monday afternoon. Middlebury improves to 17-10 with the win, while Amherst falls to 22-5 and is expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers also claimed NESCAC Tournament titles in 2009 and 2011.

Middlebury raced out to a six-point lead (12-6) on a conventional three-point play by Matt Daley with 14:32 left in the opening half. Amherst responded with a 19-2 over the next 5:20 for its largest lead at 25-14 after connecting on four-consecutive three-point field goals, including the last two from Michael Riopel.

Middlebury clawed its way back and pulled within one (36-35) at halftime, scoring the last six points of the first stanza, including the final two on a coast-to-coast circus shot by Jake Brown as the horn sounded.

The game was close throughout the second half with neither squad leading by more than three points after the 18:50 mark. In the back-and-forth session that featured 19 lead changes and eight ties, Middlebury trailed with 90 seconds left by one (76-75) after a three-pointer from the left corner by Amherst’s Jeff Racy. Middlebury’s Matt St. Amour answered by driving to the lane, putting the Panthers ahead for good at 77-76 with a minute left to play.

On the other end of the floor, Riopel had a layup blocked by Daley that went out of bounds, and the Purple & White’s John McCarthy misfired on a three pointer with 51 ticks left. After a Middlebury missed jumper and an Amherst turnover, Middlebury remained in the lead by a point (77-76). Following a Purple & White turnover, Zach Baines was fouled and hit both charity tosses, giving the Panthers a 79-76 lead with 26 seconds. McCarthy missed a shot from beyond the arc with 12 seconds showing on the clock, as St. Amour was fouled and sealed the win with two free throws. McCarthy’s long three-pointer as time expired after a Panther miscue made it an 81-79 final.

St. Amour had a game-high 22 points along with seven rebounds and four assists. With those 22 points, the junior guard moves into second place on Middlebury’s single-season scoring list (521), trailing John Humphrey (1988) total with 621. He also upped his career mark to 979 points entering the NCAA tournament.

Jack Daly posted a double-double consisting of 13 points and a game-best 12 rebounds including seven offensive boards, while Daley had a steady game with 16 points on 7-8 shooting and five caroms. Baines tallied 12 points off the Panther bench, while Brown had nine points and dished out a game-high nine assists in the victory.

Riopel led four Amherst players in double figures with 17 points and added a team-high seven rebounds, while Racy and McCarthy both chipped in with 13 points apiece. McCarthy ended the contest with a game-high four steals and was tied for team-high honors with four assists. Connor Green added 12 points, while Jayde Dawson had 11 points and four helpers.

The Panthers shot 45.3 percent from the floor (29-64), while Amherst knocked down 45.9% of its attempts (28-61). The Purple & White converted 44.9 percent of their shots from beyond the arc (13-29), while limiting the Panthers to 18.8% (3-16) from three-point range. Led by Daly’s 12 rebounds, the Panthers won the rebounding battle 44-33.