Williams holds off Amherst in NESCAC men’s hoop quarterfinal

For the Gazette
Published: 2/20/2022 12:02:33 AM
Modified: 2/20/2022 12:02:12 AM

WILLIAMSTOWN — An Amherst-Williams contest, no matter what the sport, is usually a battle of heavyweights.

In Saturday’s NESCAC men’s basketball quarterfinal, every time it seemed as if No. 4 seed Williams had the No. 5 Mammoths on the canvas, Amherst would get up. They could not, however, catch Williams on this day.

Cole Prowitt-Smith had a game-high 20 points, including 18 in the second half as Williams (16-3) advanced to the NESCAC semifinals with a 70-66 win over Amherst (15-9), before a raucous crowd in Williams’ Chandler Athletic Center.

“There are a lot of ups and downs in this game,” Amherst first-year forward Noah Helmke said. “We thought we had it, but we didn’t, and unfortunately the shot just didn’t go in.

“We kept fighting until the buzzer hit zero. I’m just proud of all the seniors and how they played, and we left our hearts out on the court.”

Williams took the lead for keeps thanks to an early 9-0 run in the first half, turning a two-point Amherst lead into a 11-4 advantage for the Ephs. Williams led by as many as 11 points in the first half, by 31-27 at halftime and by as many as 13 in the second half. 

Each time Williams looked like it landed a haymaker, Amherst got up off the canvas. The last time came when Amherst's Garrett Day scored on a reverse layup with 3:01 left as the Mammoths cut the lead to 55-54. Williams responded with a 6-1 spurt and was able to hold the visitors at bay the rest of the way.

Williams went 11 for 14 from the foul line in the last two minutes to lock up the quarterfinal victory.

“That is a NESCAC playoff game. That is a Williams-Amherst game, wrapped into one,” Williams coach Kevin App said. “I thought, give their team credit for making runs. Any time we thought it might be easy, they made sure we knew it wouldn't be. Our guys didn't flinch, and that's what you hope for at this time of the year.”

These historic rivals played two games this year, splitting the pair with the road teams winning both times. Amherst beat Williams 73-65 back on Jan. 8, with Grant Robinson scoring 27 points on 5 for 11 shooting from the field and going 14 for 14 from the foul line. When these teams met in Amherst two weeks later, Williams pulled out the 64-50 victory. In that game, Eph center Nate Karren had 17 points and seven rebounds.

Much can be gleaned from the stat sheet, but perhaps the most important statistic is that Robinson was held to four free throws. The senior from Chevy Chase, Md., averaged 22 points in both Williams-Amherst games. On Saturday, he was 0 for 7 from the floor, including 0 for 3 from 3-point range. While Robinson did record a game-high nine assists, the Ephs kept him under wraps for the most part.

"That's what I told him today after the game," App said. "We game plan for him and they've exposed every game plan we've thrown at them. It wasn't so much the game plan. It was our guys, playing a team the third time, you know tendencies. We've played Robinson and Day more than three times. We've played them a ton. We just wanted to chase, throw a second body at him as often as possible, which I think led to some of those assists, and really make him work and not bail him out at the free throw line."

Amherst had cut that 13-point Eph lead in the second half to three points on a 3-point hoop by Tim McCarthy, who led the Mammoths with 14 points. That made it 53-52. Williams answered when Nate Karren found Prowitt-Smith cutting to the basket. He fed the guard the ball for the uncontested layup. Amherst came right back down and Day scored inside. Amherst coach Marlon Sears called time out.

Out of the timeout, Eph first-year Declan Porter was fouled in the act and made both free throws. Amherst's Ryker Vance made one of two on Amherst's possession, and it was 57-55. The Mammoths did cut the Williams lead to two points two other times down the stretch, but never caught up. And when Karren drained a pair from the charity stripe with 2.4 ticks on the clock, the Ephs had their revenge, their tournament win and their ticket to the semifinals.

For the Mammoths, especially the young ones like first-year Helmke from Great Barrington, it was a learning experience. It was a real education playing in the Williams-Amherst rivalry.

"I just knew it was going to be a close game," he said. "I know Williams had a better season numbers-wise than us. We weren't hesitating at all. We thought we had this game. We just came up short."

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