Courtesy Trinity Sports Information
HARTFORD, Conn. – Guard Michael Riopel had 11 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 18 seconds left, to lead Amherst College to a 86-83 win over the Tufts University Jumbos in the semifinal round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Men's Basketball Championship Tournament on Ogrodnik Court in Oosting Gymnasium this afternoon. Amherst, seeded No. 2 in the tourney field, improves to 22-4 and will face No. 4-seeded Middlebury in the NESCAC Finals tomorrow at Trinity. Tufts falls to 20-6 and hopes to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament when they are announced on Monday.
Amherst had a 79-74 lead after Riopel free throw with 2:47 left in the game, but Tufts tri-captain Stephen Haladyna drove the lane for a traditional three-point play at the 1:25 mark and guard Vincent Pace scored two of game-high 33 points on a pair of free throws 23 seconds later to tie the game at 79-all. Haladyna's layup gave him 1,000 points for his career as a Jumbo. Amherst forward Eric Conklin scored inside to give the Purple and White a 81-79 lead inside the final minute, but Pace drained a jumper to tie it again moments later. Out of a timeout, Riopel drained the go-ahead long ball from the left corner, but Pace drove the length of the floor and was fouled on a dunk with 11 seconds left to play. Pace made both free throws, but guard Jayde Dawson answered with a pair of his own to put the Purple and White back ahead, 86-83, with 11 seconds remaining. Tufts tri-captain Ryan Spadaford got off a long three-point try from the left wing at the buzzer, but it fell short.
Amherst had taken a 16-9 lead early in the game on a Dawson jumper, but Tufts scored 10 points in a row to go ahead, 19-16, on a trey by Spadaford midway through the first half. Amherst tied the game at 29-29 on back-to-back buckets by center David George and tri-captain Connor Green, but Tufts closed the opening stanza with a 7-2 spurt to lead, 37-35, at the break. Dawson scored on a drive 2:31 in to the second frame to give Amherst back the lead at 40-39, and the Purple and White extended their advantage to nine points at 64-55 on a trey by Riopel halfway through the second half. Trailing, 76-67, with five minutes left after a layup by Dawson, Tufts outscored Amherst, 12-3, over the next four minutes to get to the 79-all tie.
Amherst had six players score in double figures, including Conklin, George, and forward Johnny McCarthy, who had 14 points apiece. George also grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots for the Purple and White, while guard Reid Berman dished a game-high nine assists. Pace made 12 of 20 shots from the field, three three-pointers, and all six of his free throws en route to his game-high 33 points, while Haladyna added 15 points. Spadaford totaled 12 points and 11 rebounds, while center Tom Palleschi notched 11 points, 12 boards, and four blocks, and Tarik Smith had six assists for the Jumbos.