Amherst clinched the top seed for the upcoming NESCAC Tournament with an epic 104-101 triple-overtime victory at Middlebury on Tuesday. Middlebury (21-2, 8-2) earns the third seed and will host sixth-seeded Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded Jeffs (22-2, 10-0) will entertain #8 Hamilton on Saturday as well. The setback for the Panthers snaps a 15-game NESCAC regular season home winning streak, dating back to a loss to Williams on January 30th of 2010. The game between second-ranked Amherst and third-ranked Middlebury was played before a crowd of 1,100 fans in Pepin Gym.
Amherst held a slim lead early, with four different players in the scoring column as they held a 14-12 advantage. Joey Kizel hit the third of his three treys in a 3:52 span to give Middlebury its first lead of the game at 15-14 with 13:58 remaining in the half. The Panthers extended their lead to 25-18 with 9:33 remaining, but then went ice-cold from the floor. Middlebury scored only two field goals in the final 9:33 of the half, missing 10 straight shots as Amherst scored 25 of the game’s next 29 points. Willy Workman scored nine of his half-high 17 points in that span, including two threes as well as a conventional three-point play.
Amherst shot 52.9% from the floor in the first half, holding a 22-14 edge on the boards. Middlebury shot 37.5% from the field, blocking six shots, four from Jack Roberts.
Trailing by 14 points early in the second half, Nolan Thompson took over, personally leading a 10-2 run on two jumpers and two threes, cutting the deficit to 47-41 with 14:15 left to play. Amherst responded with a 7-0 burst highlighted by a three from Workman for a 54-41 lead with over 12 minutes remaining. Trailing 63-53 at the 6:50 mark, Middlebury put together a 13-2 run keyed by threes from Wolfin and Kizel before Wolfin connected on a go-ahead three from the top of the key at 1:31, giving the Panthers a 66-65 lead. This was the first Middlebury lead since a 27-25 advantage late in the first half.
With 1:15 left in regulation, Peter Kaasila hit a pair of free throws as the Jeffs regained the lead 67-66. Thompson returned the favor and put Middlebury on top68-67, hitting a pair of free throws after a Workman foul with 33 ticks on the clock. With the shot clock turned off, the Jeffs attacked the basket and after a miss by Toomey, Kaasila muscled in for the rebound and put-back with 18 seconds remaining, for a 69-68 Amherst lead. Middlebury brought the ball into the front court, but Kizel was fouled with 6.7 seconds left. Kizel hit the first, but missed the second as David Kalema pushed the ball up-court, setting up Toomey for a 30-footer as the buzzer-beating potential game-winner clanked off the glass, sending the game to overtime.
In the first OT, Wolfin scored 10 of Middlebury’s 12 points in the frame. With the game knotted at 74, Peter Lynch picked up two personal fouls including his fifth and final one at 2:02, sending Workman to the line as he calmly sank both pairs of free throws for a 80-76 lead. Wolfin and Kaasila exchanged buckets before Wolfin nailed a three with 27 seconds left, cutting the Jeff lead to 80-79. Workman went to the line seven seconds later, making 1-2 free throws for a 81-79 advantage, but Jack Roberts tied the game at 81-81 on a lay-up with :09 on the clock. The Jeffs pushed the ball up and Toomey has another chance with a short jumper from the baseline, but James Jensen stuffed Toomey’s shot at the buzzer, forcing OT number two.
In the second overtime, Roberts, Middlebury’s other experienced post defender, fouled out at 3:07. Kaasila went to the line and made 1-2 for a 82-81 lead. The game went back-and-forth with five lead changes before Hunter Merryman hit a pair of free throws giving the Panthers a 90-87 lead with :09 left in the second extra stanza. Middlebury fouled Workman near half court, taking away any game tying three. Workman missed the first and rattled in the second giving the Panthers a 90-88 lead with :06 on the clock. The Jeffs fouled Wolfin on the inbounds pass, as Wolfin made 1-2 free throws for a three-point lead, 91-88. Middlebury once again fouled Workman far from the basket, giving the sharpshooter two free throws with less than two seconds on the clock. Workman hit the first one, cutting the deficit to 91-89. On his second attempt, Workman threw a hard shot at the rim that bounced right back to him as he proceeded to lay it in at the buzzer, forcing a third overtime.
Wolfin became the third Panther to foul out in the game as he earned his fifth with 3:35 remaining in the third overtime. Four free throws from Kizel with a bucket from Kaasila sandwiched in between left Amherst a 99-97 lead with 1:54 remaining. A tip-in by Kaasila was answered by a three from Kizel to bring Middlebury within one at 101-100 with 1:11 remaining.
The Panthers trailed by the same score with 11 seconds left when Jensen hit 1-2 free throws to tie the game at 101-101. Toomey took the inbounds pass and hustled up the floor, knocking down a three from the right side with 2.9 seconds remaining. Middlebury quickly inbounded the ball as a midcourt heave by Kizel hit the front rim as time expired.
Kizel led the Panthers in scoring with a career-high 30 points to go along with five boards, four assists and three steals. Thompson finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Wolfin netted 17 after a scoreless first half. Lynch added a dozen, Jensen finished with eight and a team-high nine caroms, while Roberts blocked four shots.
Workman matched Kizel with 30 points on the night to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists. Kaasila added 29 points and 11 boards on 13-19 shooting from the floor, while Allen Williamson earned 17 points with eight rebounds. Toomey netted 16 in the game with eight assists.