#2 Amherst will face #7 Bowdoin in a NESCAC quarterfinal matchup, this Saturday at 4:00 in Amherst. Bowdoin has some momentum, beating Bates, Wesleyan, and Conn College by no less than seven points each in the last two weeks. Amherst has the best overall record of any NESCAC team, and they have gone 6-1 in their last seven games. Their only loss in that span was a 84-73 showing against a strong Tufts team that beat Bowdoin 102-69 earlier in the year.
Last time they played:
January 22: Amherst 92 over Bowdoin 78 (2014-15 matchups: Amherst won regular season matchup 81 – 66 and in NESCAC semifinals 76 – 56)
Bowdoin was up by 11 at the half in that game, but Amherst exploded for 56 in the second to come all the way back. Lucas Hausman ’16 did his usual work with 32 points on the day, but 20 of those came in the first half. After him, only freshman Jack Simonds ’19 managed double digits for the Bears. Amherst outshot Bowdoin from behind the arc, 43% – 25% (12-28, 7-28), and Amherst senior Connor Green ’16 had his second highest scoring game of the year at the time, with 27 points. Amherst destroyed Bowdoin on the boards, outrebounding the Polar Bears 44-28. The second half was a completely one-sided affair where Amherst really flexed their muscles.
Bowdoin X-Factor: Forward Jack Simonds ’19
To take this quarterfinal matchup, Bowdoin needs Hausman to do what he does nearly every night, but just that won’t be enough. Simonds, the freshman forward, and reigning NESCAC player of the week, needs to be feeling it, and early, for Bowdoin to have a chance Saturday. He tallied 16 points against Amherst earlier in the year, and if he keeps his hot streak going and puts up a gaudy total, he’ll give Bowdoin a real chance. For the week, Simonds averaged 23.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, shot a pretty 50.0% (25-50) from the floor, and managed 88.8% (16-18) on his free throws. Simonds is a mismatch for anyone because of his ability to drive past bigger players and bully smaller players in the post. Amherst does have the bodies to slow him down, however. Connor Green ’16 could end up guarding Simonds in a fun matchup between senior and freshman.
Amherst X-Factor: Small Forward Jeff Racy ’17
It is no secret that junior small forward Jeff Racy ’16 is lethal from behind the arc, making his threes at a 51% clip on the year, and he’s been on fire the last two games, going 10/12 from three. If he gets in a groove on Saturday, Bowdoin will be in trouble. The Polar Bears allowed the most made threes of any team during NESCAC games, and that plays right into the hands of Amherst. Stopping Racy begins with limiting penetration from Jayde Dawson ’18 on pick and rolls. Bowdoin struggles when they have to scramble and rotate on defense. Racy was 5-9 from distance and finished with 17 points the first time that these two met.
Can Bowdoin get 15+ points out of three players?
Even if Simonds and Hausman play at the top of their game, it may not be enough for the Polar Bears. Bowdoin cannot expect to get 35 out of both of them, so someone will have to come up big, considering Amherst has put up 92, 81, and 76 in their last three contests against Bowdoin. Taking into account the loss of graduated defensive stalwart John Swords ’15, that 92 spot in this year’s matchup looks even more daunting. Even beyond Hausman and Simonds, the Bowdoin starters are plenty capable of helping out on offense: Neil Fuller ’17, Jake Donnelly ’16, and Matt Palecki ’16 have all had double-digit point tallies this year, and they’ve all done it against NESCAC foes. Palecki would be the most likely candidate, but if any of these three can add 15+, Bowdoin will have a real chance.
Will Amherst make their free throws?
It may not be a sexy stat, but Bowdoin’s defense fouls less than Amherst’s, and more importantly, Amherst is shooting just 68 percent from the line this year, against Bowdoin’s 77 percent. If Bowdoin wins, they aren’t going to blow Amherst out, and the Bears could very well end up needing those points this weekend. Of Amherst’s top four scorers, only sophomore Jayde Dawson ’18 makes more than 70% of his free throws. Bowdoin shouldn’t be worried about getting burned by playing aggressive defense against this Amherst squad.
Which Connor Green will show up?
In his last Bowdoin game, Green put up 27. In the two games against Bowdoin last season, Green had 7 points (in the NESCAC semifinal), and 33 points. With his season average of 14.6 ppg, Green is a far less consistent offensive threat than Bowdoin’s Hausman, but he’s more than capable of having a monster game. His season high is 39, and he racked up 28 in Amherst’s most recent loss to Tufts. Amherst spreads the ball around, and Bowdoin will not be able to shut down all four of Amherst’s 10 PPG starters. If Green has yet another huge performance against this Bowdoin squad, Amherst will be hard pressed to lose.
What to expect
The numbers are stacked against Bowdoin. The last three matchups between these rivals have been one sided, with Amherst winning those three games by an average of over 16 points. Amherst is a well-rounded team; they share the ball exceptionally well, with 4 out of their 5 starters averaging more than 12 PPG, and leading scorer Connor Green sits at 14.6 PPG. Bowdoin will have to limit breakout performances in order to slow the Amherst offense. Bowdoin faces an uphill battle on the defensive side of the ball too, with Amherst’s defense only giving up 69 PPG compared to Bowdoin’s 77 PPG. Bowdoin’s offense will have to click, and early, in order to have a chance. If Bowdoin can hang with Amherst, this game is going to be a shootout.
Amherst’s two conference losses both came on the road, and they are a handful in the friendly confines of Lefrak gymnasium. Their big play ability will help get what should be a big crowd into the game. Bowdoin is an obviously talented team, but this just isn’t a good matchup for the Polar Bears. The size and speed of Amherst will be too much.
Prediction: Amherst 87, Bowdoin 81