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Slow start sinks Amherst Regional boys in Division 1 quarterfinal loss to Holyoke

HOLYOKE — It all happened so quickly.

Like a sprinter slow off the blocks, the Amherst Regional boys basketball team was doomed by a bad start and unable to recover as the fifth-seeded Hurricanes fell to No. 4 Holyoke 59-45 Thursday in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament quarterfinals.

Holyoke took advantage of Amherst’s zone defense and shot the lights out in the first quarter, jumping out to a large early lead it never relinquished.

“They shot the heck out of the ball in the first quarter for sure,” Amherst coach Jim Matuszko said.

The Purple Knights started the game with a 15-3 run behind Emmanuel Rivera’s shooting from the outside and Justin White’s work in the paint as they dominated the first five minutes.

As every Holyoke shot seemed to find its mark, the Hurricanes struggled to convert on their chances, failing to score for nearly five minutes after Tyler Peake netted a 3-pointer on Amherst’s first shot of the game.

Trailing 20-10 entering the second quarter, Amherst again was forced to withstand another Holyoke barrage as the Knights opened with 11 straight points to extend the advantage to 21 points.

Changing defensive philosophies late in the first half, Amherst settled down, limited Holyoke’s opportunities and contested more shots. The Hurricanes entered the locker room trailing 33-16.

“We changed up our defense and started playing more man than zone and we made a couple of personnel changes that helped us out,” Matuszko said. “At halftime, we tried to focus on continuing that in the second half and I don’t think we gave up that many points.”

The offense, however, never found its game and Holyoke’s prowess on the boards prevented any second-chance points.

“I thought at the end of the first half, our defense finally woke up, but our offense never got into gear,” Matuszko said. “I don’t have a real answer. It was just a tough shooting night for us. We got the shots we wanted, they just didn’t fall.”

Matuszko added, “They had 59 points and they average 68 a game, but we have to score more than 45.”

Amherst had only two players reach double figures. Tyler Peake led the Hurricanes with 13 points while Noris Cuevas-Nova, who recorded a triple-double in Monday night’s win over Pittsfield, netted 10.

“I don’t know what it is about (Holyoke), but we never seem to be able to get into a rhythm offensively against them,” Matuszko said.

It was the final game for eight Amherst seniors: Good Farah, James Sowers, Sam Hird, Reed Bixby, Nick Johnson, Justin Carey, Peake and Cuevas-Nova.

“Overall I think it was a successful season. We had some kids that returned from last year’s team and we had some pretty good chemistry,” he said. “That’s something this team had — better chemistry than we’ve had in a long time. Hopefully next year we still have some of that and can make another run.”

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