AMHERST, Mass. — Taylor Barrise knocked down a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds remaining in regulation to lead second-ranked Amherst to a 71-69 victory against No. 4 Middlebury in the NESCAC Championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Middlebury battled back from a 15-point deficit with an impressive run in the final 10 minutes. With the game tied at 68-68 and Amherst in-bounding the ball, the Jeffs elected to let the clock run down for one final shot. Aaron Toomey dished the ball to Barrise on the wing, and Amherst’s all-time three-point leader came through with a clutch shot that brought the score to 71-68.
With only 3.2 seconds to go, the Jeffs fouled Joey Kizel on the ensuing in-bounds pass. Kizel knocked down his first attempt to make it a two-point game, but after he intentionally missed the second the Panthers’ put-back attempt at the buzzer fell well short.
It was fitting that the conference title came down to a classic showdown between Amherst and Middlebury, as the teams closed out the regular season with an overtime thriller that also went the Jeffs’ way. Amherst bumped its win streak to 12 and has won 29 consecutive games in LeFrak Gymnasium.
Toomey and Willy Workman led Amherst with a combined 34 points and eight assists on 13-of-21 shooting. Kizel and Jake Wolfin were equally impressive for Middlebury, combining for 39 points and six assists on 13-of-22.
Amherst held an 18-4 advantage in bench points and shot better than 50 percent in each half (50.9 overall), including a 6-for-12 performance from behind the arc. Middlebury struggled from long range (7-for-23) but nearly pulled off the comeback after shooting 51.9 percent in the second period.
The key in the first half was a 12-0 Amherst run that gave the hosts a 20-15 lead midway through the period. The Jeffs had only a 20-19 advantage with 7:48 to go but held Middlebury scoreless for the next 3:07, closing the half on a 16-7 run for a 36-26 cushion at the break.
The Panthers then started the second half 1-for-6 from the floor and trailed by as many as 15 when a Workman tip-in gave the Jeffs a 54-39 lead with 10:15 remaining. Middlebury began to take charge on a Kizel steal and three-point play, followed by a 3-pointer by Wolfin on the next possession to suddenly bring the score to 56-49 with 7:58 on the clock.
Wolfin then capped off a 10-0 run with a pair of free throws, but Amherst’s David Waller finally put a stop to the bleeding with a hard drive and layup. The Panthers chipped away at their deficit with a huge offensive rebound and put-back by Ryan Sharry, followed by six quick Wolfin points that made it a 65-64 game in favor of the hosts with 1:20 to go.
Jeff Holmes gave Amherst a big boost by muscling in a layup while getting fouled, and he knocked down the ensuing free throw to put the Jeffs back ahead by four. Middlebury tied the game at 68-68 with two Sharry free throws and a Kizel layup, setting up Barrise’s heroics on Amherst’s final possession.