Colby Soars Past Amherst
"Warm up the bus! Warm up the bus!"
The demeaning chant began to reverberate through Wadsworth Gymnasium with about three minutes to go in last Saturday's game as a dejected Amherst College called a timeout to re-collect itself. With Colby up by only 10 points at the time, the display may have been seen as a bit premature, but both the raucous crowd and the players knew the same thing: Colby had the victory in hand.
Dominating the second half, the Mules ultimately ended the game on an 18-5 run and sent the Lord Jeffs packing with a final score of 67-49 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) quarterfinals.
Only three years removed from its 2007 Division III national title, Amherst's loss to Colby in this year's NESCAC tournament marks the first time in the history of the conference that the Lord Jeffs have been knocked out in the first round. However, no matter how shocking to the traditional hierarchy of NESCAC basketball, the victory is not season defining for Colby. Rather, it is merely a sequential step for a talented squad that has goals far beyond the NESCAC quarterfinals.
Going into the game, much of the talk among NESCAC pundits (see d3boards.com) had the line in the Lord Jeffs favor, even though Colby (19-5, 6-3 NESCAC) was the higher seed and had beaten Amherst (14-11, 3-6 NESCAC) earlier in the season. The crowd relished supporting the underdog, and gave the Mules a true home-court advantage in what was the last home game of the season.
"It was no doubt the best Colby crowd I have seen at any sporting event in my four years," senior sharpshooter Gil Haylon said.
Head Coach Dick Whitmore, who has seen a fair share of jovial home crowds over his storied career, agrees.
"In a game where there were many ebbs and flows, the fans were the difference in maintaining the high level of effort needed to challenge a team of Amherst's quality," Whitmore said.
In the early minutes, Amherst jumped to leads of 7-0 and 11-2. No matter how initially deflating Colby steadily crept back into the contest behind the ever-constant support of the crowd. The exclamation point of the comeback was added by senior center Chas Woodward as he received a backdoor pass from a crashing Mike Russell '11. Woodward rose up on the baseline and threw down a thunderous jam that sent the Wadsworth crowd to its feet. The Mules took a 29-26 lead into halftime.
"We didn't let the slow start get us down," Woodward said. "Amherst thought they were going to take the game away easily, but then we pulled it together and played some good defense."
Although the Colby defense was stout, the catalyst of the Colby win was sixth man Haylon. Early on, Haylon was unstoppable from beyond the arc, coming off screens and nailing silky smooth jumpers. The senior guard finished 4-5 from 3-point range with 15 points.
"This was Gil Haylon's game as he was the force that brought us from behind with his outside shooting--a great performance," Whitmore said.
Using Haylon as a destraction in the second half, the inside game of Russell (17 points, 10 rebounds) and the slashing game of co-captain Justin Sherman (11 points) flourished. Point guard and co-captain Christian Van Loenen '11 once again played another stellar, controlled game, settling the offense and dishing out a game-high seven assists while also netting eight points.
After watching the season that two-time all NESCAC selection Adam Choice '10 has had it would be hard to believe that Colby could mount an 18-point lead against Amherst with Choice only hitting 2-12 shots for eight points. However, Choice still brought down 10 rebounds and his presence was felt.
"In the second half surge that pushed us into the lead Adam Choice and Justin Sherman were defensive leaders of significance and this was the key to the second half performance."
Colby will now head to Williams College this weekend to take part in the NESCAC final four. On Saturday Feb. 27 the Mules will take on Middlebury College, ranked #5 in the country. The championship will be held on Sunday between the winner of Colby vs. Middlebury and Williams vs. Bates College.