Amherst knocks off No. 5 Middlebury to give coach Dave Hixon win No. 800

  • Amherst College men’s basketball coach Dave Hixon picked up his 800th career win Saturday with an 80-68 victory over Midlebury at LeFrak Gymnasium. Amin Touri

For the Gazette
Sunday, February 11, 2018

AMHERST — For the second time in as many days, the Amherst College men’s basketball team knocked off a top-10 team.

The Mammoths followed up Friday’s win over No. 8 Williams with an 80-68 victory over No. 5 Middlebury, Saturday at LeFrak Gymnasium.

It was Amherst coach David Hixon’s 800th career win.

“We played great,” senior Michael Riopel said. “We’re coming together at a really good time. We knew we had to win two games to get a chance to host NESCACs, and with our backs against the wall we played our best basketball of the season. I’m just proud of the whole team.”

Riopel had 17 points and seven rebounds, leading the Mammoths (16-8, 6-3 NESCAC).

After a tight first few minutes, Amherst went on a 16-0 run midway through the first half to take a 32-14 lead, eventually going to the half up 43-28.

The lead reached 20 in the second half as the Panthers (19-5, 7-3 NESCAC) struggled defensively. The Mammoths had five scorers in double-digits, flashing a balanced scoring attack throughout.

Middlebury made a late run, getting as close as nine with just over a minute remaining, but Amherst sealed it at the free-throw line.

The Mammoths were especially dominant on the boards, posting a 60-34 advantage on the glass and outscoring their opponents 22-4 on second-chance points.

“Oh we played really hard again, from the get-go,” Hixon said. “They average 16 offensive rebounds per game, and we held them to eight. We got 60 (rebounds). ... I’ve never had a team get 60, in 41 years. We just played really, really hard.”

Senior Johnny McCarthy had 11 points and 14 rebounds for Amherst and it was only fitting that Riopel and McCarthy were stellar on senior day.

“This is what they’ve been doing all year long,” Hixon said. “Even through the hard times, those two guys kept us together all year long. That’s why we are where we are today, because of those two seniors.”

Hixon pulled them with under a minute to play to a rousing ovation, hugging his seniors as they left the floor.

“It was emotional,” Riopel said. “It definitely hasn’t hit me yet. We’ve put in a ton of hard work on this floor, Johnny and I. To give coach a hug, and for him to be emotional too, it was really touching.”

Hixon’s 800 career wins puts him 25th all-time across all levels of the NCAA.

“The wins are just markers of kids passing through, and we’ve had great kids and great teams,” Hixon said. “It’s been such a joy to coach the kids I coach here.”

With the win, the Mammoths secured the top seed and home-court advantage in the NESCAC Tournament next weekend.