HADLEY, Mass. – With the top seed in this year’s NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship at stake, Amherst closed out the regular season with a dramatic 104-101 triple overtime triumph at Middlebury this evening. In the process, the Lord Jeffs secured home court advantage throughout the tournament for the second year in a row. They will begin their quest for a sixth conference crown when quarterfinal round action gets underway on Saturday. Williams, Middlebury and Tufts have also earned the right to host quarterfinal round contests. The highest seed following this weekend will host both semifinals and the final from February 23-24. This year’s champion will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Amherst (22-2, 10-0 NESCAC) went unbeaten in NESCAC play for the second straight season and fourth time in the last 10 years. No strangers to postseason success, the Lord Jeffs picked up their fifth league title with a thrilling 71-69 victory over Middlebury last February. They also took home top honors in 2001, 2002, 2005 and 2006.
Up first for Amherst will be eighth seeded Colby (7-16, 3-7 NESCAC). After dropping six straight games, the Mules topped Connecticut College 76-65 this evening at Tufts. They finished in tie with Hamilton but were awarded the final spot in the field by virtue of their 69-65 win over the Continentals on January 6. This will be the fifth time that the two teams have faced off in the postseason. Though Amherst owns a 3-1 edge, Colby earned a 67-49 in the quarterfinal round of the 2010 tournament. The Lord Jeffs will enter the weekend riding a 16 game winning streak. Over that span, they have outscored their opponents by nearly 15 points per game. Included in the run was a 98-75 victory over the Mules on January 19.
Second seeded Williams (21-3, 9-1 NESCAC) will be looking for its fifth NESCAC title and first since 2010 when tournament play begins on Saturday. The Ephs have dropped just three contests this season, including a 65-48 setback to Amherst on Sunday. Their road to conference supremacy will begin with a quarterfinal round matchup against seventh seeded Bates (10-14, 4-6 NESCAC). The Bobcats sealed their spot in the championship with consecutive wins over Trinity and Hamilton down the stretch. They have advanced to the semifinal round in two of the past three seasons and also reached the final in 2005 before falling to Amherst. Williams owns a 4-1 edge in the tournament series between the schools. The Ephs prevailed 80-69 at Bates on January 5.
Middlebury (21-2, 8-2 NESCAC) will once again look to challenge for the conference crown after four consecutive trips to the title game. While tonight’s heartbreaking loss dropped the Panthers (21-2, 8-2 NESCAC) to the third seed, they should still be considered one of the most dangerous teams in the nation. Their two losses have come by a combined four points, including a 64-63 setback at Williams on January 26. Middlebury, which earned NESCAC titles in 2009 and 2011, has posted an impressive 10-2 tournament mark over the last four years. In order to move on, the Panthers will have to get past sixth seeded Wesleyan (12-12, 4-6 NESCAC) on Saturday. Winners of five of their last seven games, the Cardinals will enter the contest with a sense of optimism after taking Middlebury to overtime on January 12. They erased an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation before falling 78-77 in overtime. Wesleyan was eliminated by the Panthers in the semifinal round of last year’s championship. It was the team’s first trip to the semifinals since the 2002-03 season. The Cardinals were awarded the sixth slot by virtue of their 61-51 triumph at Bates on January 19. Both teams finished with identical 4-6 conference records.
The remaining quarterfinal round game will feature fourth seeded Tufts (16-8, 7-3 NESCAC) and fifth seeded Bowdoin (14-9, 5-5 NESCAC). This will be the first ever postseason meeting between the programs. After falling to Williams and Middlebury in the opening weekend of conference play, the Jumbos proceeded to win 10 of their final 11 regular season contests. Their hot streak began with an 82-69 victory at Bowdoin on January 11. Tufts made its lone appearance in the conference championship game in 2006, falling in overtime to Amherst. The Jumbos have not moved out of the quarterfinal round since. Bowdoin secured the fifth position in the field with wins at Connecticut College and Wesleyan over the weekend. The Polar Bears will be looking to advance to the semifinal round for the third time in program history and first since 2009. They fell to Trinity in the 2008 final.
Results for the NESCAC Men’s Basketball Championship will be available at the completion of each day on the NESCAC website.