AMHERST — When the Amherst Regional boys basketball team first took a 10-point lead over East Longmeadow, Hurricanes coach Jim Matuszko called a timeout.
There were 2 minutes, 35 seconds until halftime. He challenged his team to not let it get below 10.
“I never felt comfortable in this game,” Matuszko said. “This game’ll turn quickly if it gets below 10.”
The lead went below 10 and fluctuated to as high as 17, but No. 2 Amherst kept the No. 7 Spartans at arms length.
The Hurricanes won 74-68 on Thursday in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament quarterfinals at Amherst Middle School. Amherst (16-5) will play No. 3 Northampton (15-6) in the semifinals.
“That’s a rivalry. Playing them is always tough,” Amherst senior Meikkel Murray said.
Murray helped Amherst build its lead. He scored 12 of his team-high 20 points in the first quarter. Nearly all 20 came at the rim on layups with four free throws and a jump shot mixed in.
“(Getting the ball inside) has been our goal all year,” Matuszko said.
The Hurricanes worked the ball into Murray and Seth Bella-Hunter, who finished with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks.
“They were killing us on the glass,” East Longmeadow coach Pat Ochoa said. “We gave up a lot of second-chance points.”
Once the Hurricanes established their two leading scorers inside, it opened up the 3-point line. Will Budington hit three 3s in the third quarter en route to 14 points, and Amherst turned a 10-point halftime lead to 54-37 after three quarters.
“He was heating up,” Murray said. “Any time he’s heating up, we have to swing the ball.”
That burst staggered the Spartans, but they cut the lead to 71-64 in the game’s final 1:13. Jeric Cichon was a big part of it. He scored 34 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter.
East Longmeadow hit eight 3s.
“The 3 is the great equalizer,” Ochoa said. “Unfortunately we didn’t hit enough tonight.”
Tajahn Joyner had 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and made three free throws down the stretch.
“We kept our heads up,” Bella-Hunter said. “We just wanted to seal it there at the end.”
Kyle Grabowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amherst Regional 74,
East Longmeadow 68
East Longmeadow (10-11)
Cichon 10-12-34, Ayala 1-0-2, Dumas 2-0-5, Lindsay 4-4-13, Cordero 5-1-14. Totals 22-17-68
Joyner 4-6-15, Budington 5-0-14, Meikyle Murray 2-1-6, Perry 0-0-0, Bella-Hunter 6-7-19, Meikkel Murray 8-4-20, Blanchard 0-0-0. Totals 25-18-74
3-Pointers—East Longmeadow 8 (Cichon 2, Dumas, Lindsay 2, Cordero 3), Amherst 6 (Budington 4, Joyner, Meikyle Murray)