SALEM, Va. (Amherst.edu) – A night after putting up 101 points, the second-ranked Amherst men’s basketball team proved it could still find a way to win even when the shots weren’t falling, grinding out a 52-44 victory over No. 3 North Central in the NCAA national semifinals at the Salem Civic Center.
Held scoreless for the first 8:58 of the second half, it was the Jeff defense that helped carry the day, not allowing the Cardinals to build a lead larger than three despite the dry-spell. Shooting 51.5 percent from the floor in the three NCAA games prior to the Final Four, Amherst connected on just 15 of its 48 field goal attempts (31.3 percent), while going 4-for-14 (26.1 percent) from long distance.
Despite their struggles on the offensive end, the Purple & White turned in arguably its best defensive effort of the season, holding the Cardinals to just 16-for-56 (28.6 percent) from the floor and 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) from long distance.
With the win, the Jeffs tied a program record for consecutive victories (23), while improving to 29-2 on the season. Advancing to its third national championship game (first since 2008), Amherst returns to action against Mary Hardin-Baylor on Sunday, Apr. 7 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga.
Scoring four of the Jeffs’ first six points, Allen Williamson ’13 knocked down a straight-away jumper to put Amherst up 6-5. Still up one at 8-7, Peter Kaasila ’13 connected on 1-of-2 from the charity stripe before Aaron Toomey ’14 drained a triple from the right wing to extend the margin to five.
Charlie Rosenberg ’14 ended a six-plus minute North Central field goal drought with a layup at 13:25, but a David Kalema ’14 trey from the right side coupled with a Connor Green ’16 three-point play stretched the lead to 18-9. Making the first of two free throws inside of the seven-minute mark, Rosenberg ended a 6:14 NCC scoreless stretch.
The forward later kept the Cardinals rolling with a baseline jumper, as North Central pieced together a 9-2 run to trim the deficit to two. Up four with under two minutes to play, Williamson dialed it up from distance to push the Amherst cushion to 27-20. Brandon Williams ’14 scored down low inside of a minute to bring the Cardinals back within five, but Willy Workman ’13 closed out the half with his second buzzer beater in as many nights to make it 29-22.
Netting the first 10 points of the second, North Central took a 32-29 edge, while holding Amherst scoreless for nearly nine minutes. Landon Gamble ’14 got the run started with a pair of free throws, before a Derek Raridon ’13 cut the lead to one. Scoring in the post, Gamble helped the Cardinals pull back in front on the next possession before a couple of Aaron Tiknis ’13 free throws stretched the North Central margin to three.
Drawing a foul underneath, Ben Pollack ’16 recorded the Jeffs’ first points of the frame with 11:02 to go, thanks to a 2-for-2 showing from the charity stripe. Gamble answered with a layup on the other end, but Toomey came right back down and drained a three-pointer to pull Amherst even at 34-34.
Going back to Pollack in the paint, the first-year connected on a reverse layup before a Toomey free throw had the Jeffs up three. With the Purple & White still ahead by three with 5:18 on the clock, Kaasila netted three straight points to push the lead to six, forcing a NCC timeout. Gamble came out of the stoppage with a bucket, but Williamson answered to make it 46-40.
Connecting on a pair from the line at that made it a seven-point game, Williamson blocked a would-be three inside of a minute before running out and throwing down a two handed dunk to seal the gritty Jeff win.
Williamson finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, while adding 10 rebounds to notch his third double-double of the year. Toomey was the only other Amherst player in double figures with 10 points and six boards. Green and Kalema chipped in with eight and six points, respectively, combining for five rebounds and four assists.
Gamble led North Central with a game-high 20 points while Tiknis had nine points and 14 rebounds. Fresh off a career-high 31 points against Middlebury in the national quarterfinals, Vince Kmiec ’14 managed just two points on 1-for-11 shooting, while Raridon, the NABC Midwest Player of the Year, finished with just three points, going 1-for-8 from the floor.