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Men's basketball nearly pulls off upset of undefeated Amherst

Luke Matarazzo '14 scored a career-high 10 points, to go with four rebounds and three assists. (File photo)

AMHERST, Mass. -- The Bates College men's basketball team led undefeated and No. 5 nationally ranked Amherst for most of the first half, as well as the majority of the second half, but the Lord Jeffs pulled out a 74-68 NESCAC victory on Saturday.

Amherst improved to 20-0 overall and 7-0 in conference play. The hard-luck loss drops the Bobcats to 12-11 overall and 3-5 in NESCAC games. Bates has its final game of the regular season at Tufts on Saturday, Feb. 12, at 2 p.m.

Senior Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.) led Bates with 17 points, and senior Nick Schmiemann (Weymouth, Mass.) added 11. Sophomore Mark Brust and first-year Luke Matarazzo (Shelton, Conn.) added 10 points apiece, a season-high for Matarazzo.

Conor Meehan scored 21 points for the Lord Jeffs, hitting 7-of-10 from the floor, including 3-4 from beyond the arc. Aaron Toomey added 18 points, including a 12-12 performance at the free-throw line, and Allen Williamson added 12 points.

Amherst lost its early lead with 13:48 to go on a jumper by junior John Squires (Swampscott, Mass.) that put Bates ahead 11-10. Back-to-back jumpers by senior Thomas Deegan (Weymouth, Mass.) made it a five-point lead. A ferocious Bates defense forced the Lord Jeffs to drive and the Bobcats worked the ball down low on offense, as the teams combined to attempt only 11 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. A five-point burst by Bates after the 8:00 mark -- a pair of free throws by Matarazzo, followed by a Matarazzo steal and dish to Schmiemann for a three -- extended Bates' lead to 23-14 with 7:21 left.

The Lord Jeffs ended the half on a 12-3 run over the final 5:32, including a three by Meehan that closed it to 26-24 with 1:47 to go, and a layup by Meehan that tied the game at 28-28 heading into the second half.

After taking only four shots from long range in the first half, Bates switched gears and opened the second period with Schmiemann and Brust connecting from downtown. Amherst countered with a pair of triples from Taylor Barrise and would finally regain the lead (45-44) on a pair of Meehan free throws with 11:40 to play, marking the first time the Jeffs had led since 14 minutes remained in the first.

After several ties and lead changes, another Schmiemann three gave Bates a 59-55 lead with 5:35 left in the game. Toomey responded with a layup, then assisted on a three by Barrise as Amherst retook the lead at 60-59 with 4:14 left. Toomey hit a pair of free throws and a jumper to maintain Amherst's lead in spite of a layup by Ellis.

Bates cut the deficit down to one twice in the final two minutes: on Ellis's free throws with 1:23 left, and Ellis's layup with 58 seconds to go, which made it 66-65 Amherst. Toomey and Allen Williamson hit six of six free throws in the final 15 seconds to stave off the Bobcats.

While Amherst missed only three of its 28 attempts from the line, Bates was only 14-for-25, including 7-for-16 in the first half. Toomey finished with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists and a 12-for-12 showing on free throws, while Williamson added 12 points and a 6-for-6 performance at the line. Barrise chipped in with nine points and a game-high eight rebounds for the Jeffs.

BOX SCORE: Amherst 74, Bates 68