Amherst cemented its status as the top dog in the NESCAC with Saturday’s commanding victory over Trinity 89-82. The Purple and White led comfortably 84-70 with 1:31 left to play before the Bantams made a late push to make things a little dicey at the end. Trinity didn’t have quite enough offense to stay with the shot-making Amherst team. The game was a very physical one, with the teams combining for more than 50 fouls by the end of the game. When they make their threes, Amherst is hard to beat, and they made nine against the Bantams. The win pushes Amherst to 5-1 in conference and 16-3 overall.
Leading the way were Jayde Dawson ’18 and Johnny McCarthy ’18 with 45 points combined, 26 of those in the 2nd half. The two also combined for nine turnovers versus six assists, reinforcing that as talented players as they are, they are equally capable of sinking the team with their play. Connor Green ’16 was quiet finishing with just seven points on six shots. In times past, when Green was having a quiet game he would force the issue from three-point land, but on Saturday he let his younger teammates take the lead.
The win was a great one for Amherst, and the Purple and White now have the inside shot on hosting the NESCAC tournament. However, they are still a ways away from that happening, and the problems with this team are not going away. I think that Amherst drops another NESCAC in the coming weeks, and with Middlebury and Tufts still on the schedule, multiple losses would not be a huge surprise.
Point Guard Jack Bors ’19 (Bowdoin)
The Polar Bears survived in overtime against Colby in large part because of Bors coming out of nowhere to score 20 points. The 5’9″ lefty reminds Bowdoin fans of Bryan Hurley ’15 because of his toughness. Despite barely playing all season, Bors was not lacking in confidence the moment he entered into the game. Coming into Saturday, he had not scored more than four points in just one game. He wasn’t at all part of the rotation until Saturday, not playing in three of Bowdoin’s NESCAC games. Bors got time against the Mules in part because of a strong performance at the end of the blowout loss for Bowdoin against Trinity last Saturday. Coach Tim Gilbride wanted to shake things up, and with the early injury to Matt Palecki ’16, he rolled the dice with Bors. Bowdoin needed a spark to hold off the Mules in a battle that was big for both teams. Bors now will see if he can make Saturday’s performance carry over to the rest of the season.
Power Forward Rashid Epps ’16 (Wesleyan)
In a game where BJ Davis ’16 scored his 1,000 point, Epps led the way with 19 points as Wesleyan got past Conn College 87-79. Early in the season, Epps was fazed out of the offense, but he has come back in the past few weeks with very strong performances. In NESCAC games, Epps is averaging 12.3 ppg while making shots at an awesome 64.0 percent rate. A little undersized for a power forward at 6’4″, Epps is powerful enough to gain positioning against anybody. The Cardinals won again to make their NESCAC winning streak three games now. At 4-3 they are above .500 for the first time all season and suddenly are eyeing a home playoff game. Committing to getting Epps the ball is a big reason why.
Center Chris Hudnut ’16 (Colby)
One of the best players in the league, Hudnut’s past season and a half has been tough to watch because of various injuries knocking him out of games. Hudnut had not scored above 20 points in a game since December 28, missing three games since then and laboring through the rest. He looked like his usual self Saturday, dominating in the second half and scoring 33 points on just 17 shots. Twenty-four of his points came in the second half. The problem is that Colby still lost to drop to 1-5 in the NESCAC. Getting into the playoffs is not going to be easy. They lose the head-to-head tie breaker against Bates and Bowdoin, and their one win against Amherst does them no favors. The thing is, if Hudnut plays as well as he did Saturday, they have more than enough to win at least two of their final four games and give themselves a shot of making the NESCAC tournament. And if they do get in, they would scare the living heck out of whichever team would draw them in the first round.
The Bobcats have now lost four straight NESCAC games, all of them by double digits. Trying to figure out what is wrong with Bates is not easy, but I think it’s just a problem of the pieces not fitting well together. Mike Boornazian ’16 has struggled to find his footing as the lead man. He is averaging 15.1 ppg in NESCAC games, but he is shooting 35.2 percent from the field and 26.2 percent from three-point land. As a team the Bobcats have the worst three-point shooting percentage at 32.0 percent, and the number drops below 30 percent when you look just at NESCAC games. Obviously the loss of Graham Safford ’15 has hurt, but it is also the absence of key perimeter players Billy Selmon ’15 and Adam Philpott ’15 that is hurting this team. Those two averaged 13.1 ppg combined last year while also being two of the team’s better perimeter defenders. Without glue guys like that, Bates has not been able to do the little things to stay in games.
Conn College’s Second Half
At halftime, the Camels owned an eight-point lead over Wesleyan. However, the wheels fell off on defense as the Cardinals pounded the ball inside and shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half. Conn College is now 3-4 in the league, but they have led at halftime for three of their losses. Blowing a second half lead is a sign of the Camels youth most likely. Closing games out in the NESCAC is hard, and Wesleyan beat Conn College on Saturday because of their experience in important games. For example, in the second half playing at home, Conn College made just ONE free throw the entire second half, going 1-6 from the charity stripe. These games are learning experiences for Conn College, and that they have them this season with so many talented youngsters is a good thing.
The Panthers, playing without forward Zach Baines ’19, absolutely let one get away on Saturday. A Matt St. Amour ’17 layup with 6:04 left in the game made the score 62-58 in Middlebury’s favor. The Panthers didn’t score again! Hamilton scored with one second left to win 64-62. Middlebury blew a 15 point second half lead, and the lack of scoring was tough to watch. Going cold for that long down the stretch is a freaky thing, and it won’t happen again. Middlebury relies on a balanced and deep attack, and it is usual St. Amour who hits the bucket when the Panthers absolutely need one. However, it didn’t happen on Saturday. The issue is the damage is done for the young Panthers. They will have chances to make it up, but in this year’s NESCAC where no victory is an easy one, letting a win like this one slip away hurts.