|Johnny McCarthy had a team-high 21 points in Amherst's first-round squeaker vs. Husson.
Amherst athletics file photo
|The second round was Connor Green's night to be high scorer, as he recorded 20 points vs. Cortland.
Amherst athletics file photo
By Matthew Noonan
Amherst men’s basketball head coach Dave Hixon is humble about his program’s recent accomplishments. He credits “good fortune” for his program’s success.
The Purple and White have enjoyed some good fortune this season, as well as over the past few years. Amherst has won a pair of national titles and appeared in seven semifinals.
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In 2013, Amherst captured the program’s second national crown, defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor, 87-70.
Three years later, Amherst has returned to the semifinals – perhaps on good fortune? – and will look to extend its current campaign beyond Friday evening when the Purple and White take on undefeated Benedictine at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va., with tip-off scheduled for 5:00 p.m.
“There are great coaches and great programs out there that have never been to the Final Four, and have never won a national championship. People turn to me and ask, ‘What do you do differently?’ and my response is you have to have good fortune,” said Hixon, who guided the Purple and White to its third semifinal appearance in four seasons.
“I don’t know what the percentage of all that is because sometimes it seems pretty high, but you have to have good fortune because the breaks of the game are almost inexplicable, and I think the hoop gods have been on the other end of it sometimes, which leads me to say, ‘how did that happen?”
Hixon probably asked himself ‘how did that happen’ multiple times after his team squeaked out a pair of dramatic wins over Husson and Cortland in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Getting to know Amherst
Hoopsville interview with coach David Hixon (March 10, 2016)
Amherst drops mascot (Jan. 26, 2016)
Against Babson and Tufts, no late dramatics were needed, but instead solid defense down the stretch. Amherst overcome a two-point deficit at the break to defeat Babson, while David George jumpstarted a late rally to send the Purple and White past Tufts in the sectional finals.
“I think it is a combination of guys knowing how to win, a couple real gamers, locking down our defense and then a certain percentage of good fortune,” said Hixon. “I think we have had a good percentage of good fortune this year, which is great.”
Good fortune maybe the reason Amherst finds itself two wins away from collecting some hardware, but what many may not know is the strength of this team’s chemistry, which began following the squad’s second round setback to St. John Fisher last season.
Hixon took the team to Italy months after the NCAA Tournament loss for a nine-day trip where the squad spent countless hours touring cities and spending time together. The coaching staff even came up with ‘clever’ rooming assignments to help develop certain relationships.
“They were hanging together and it was a lot of fun,” said Hixon, “and I think it all started there.”
Once the season began, that chemistry helped Amherst win nine consecutive games, including a double-overtime win against Babson. Hixon considers the early season victory over the Beavers a turning point as the bench helped the Purple and White grind out a non-conference win.
“It took nine guys to win that game,” Hixon said of his team’s 103-96 win over the Beavers. “My guys put their arms around each other (at one point during a time out) and realized we had a team here, and I think our chemistry started with that particular win.
“Of course, we dealt with some ups and downs, the road trips up in Maine are always difficult, but we are so much father ahead of where we were from the start.”
Amherst enters Friday’s contest with four players averaging double-figures. Connor Green and George are averaging six rebounds per contest, while Jeff Racy has been lethal from beyond the arc, knocking down 94 of 189 trifectas.
The Purple and White will need every member of the team, along with good fortune and chemistry to return home as champions. Amherst will also need some good fortune and chemistry to earn back-to-back wins.
“Benedictine is a good team,” said Hixon. “We have seen now three or four films, they are really balanced and I can see why they are 30-0. They have good guards, they have a good wing, good players and they’re tough, so we shall see what we can do.”