WALTHAM, Mass. – The Brandeis University men's basketball team erased a 17-point deficit in the first half and led by as many as five in the second half, but the Judges couldn't hang on against the third-ranked Amherst College Lord Jeffs in a 72-65 non-conference defeat in Red Auerbach Arena tonight.
Amherst got off to a hot start, connecting on their first five shots and 11 of their first 16 as they built a 28-11 lead on a Connor Green (Bedford, N.H./Phillips Exeter) 3-pointer just over 10 minutes into the contest.
Undaunted, Brandeis held them to just 2-of-13 over the final 9:50. The Judges went on a 19-2 run of their own, tying the game at 30-30 on two Tim Reale (Mason, Ohio/St. Andrews School, R.I.) free throws with 1:32 remaining. The visitors scored the final six points of the half to take a 36-30 lead into the locker room.
The Judges got right back into the game in the early parts of the second half, opening on a 17-6 run. Brandeis got within one point on a back-door pass by junior John Powell (Ashland, Mass./Brimmer and May School) leading to a dunk by sophomore Jordan Cooper (Weston, Fla./Sagemont School) at the 16:13 mark. They took their first lead of the game at 42-41 on the next possession on a nifty fast-break pass from senior Colby Smith (No. Andover, Mass./No. Andover) to junior Robinson Vilmont (Cambridge, Mass./Wilbraham and Monson Acad.).
Amherst sophomore Johnny McCarthy (Medfield, Mass./Noble and Greenough) put the visitors back on top with a layup, but Powell found Cooper through the back door again, then threw down a slam of his own after blocking a shot on the defensive end. After the Lord Jeffs hit 1-of-2 from the line, Powell converted a traditional three-point play on a put-back that gave Brandeis its largest lead, 47-42, with 13:23 remaining.
The Judges were still up four, 50-46, when Cooper connected from the right wing at the 9:46 mark. Amherst sophomore Jayde Dawson (Montreal, Quebec/Brooks School) responded with a lay-up on the other end, kicking off what would prove to be the decisive run. Junior Jeff Racy (Ridgefield, Conn./Ridgefield) connected from deep to put Amherst back ahead, 51-50, with 8:44 left. Cooper hit 1-of-2 from the line to tie the game at 51-all, but Racy hit trifectas on the Lord Jeffs' next two possessions to make it a six-point contest.
Reale had a steal and fed Vilmont for a fast-break hoop, but Riopel knocked one down from deep making it a 60-53 contest with 5:49 to go, and a McCarthy second-chance bucket gave the visitors an eight-point lead with just under four-and-a-half minutes left. Smith converted an and-one opportunity with 2:34 to go to cut it to 65-62.
After Dawson drew a foul and hit both free throws to make it a 5-point Amherst lead with 1:48 remaining, both teams came up empty on their next possession. Powell found Vilmont in the corner to get the Judges within two at 67-65 with 36.8 seconds left. Amherst junior Eric Conklin (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chapparal) hit 1-of-2 from the line, keeping it a one-possession game, but the Judges were unable to make him pay, missing twice from the foul line on their end, as the Lord Jeffs hit their last four freebies for the final seven-point difference.
Brandeis got a game-high 21 points from Cooper, who scored 13 in the second half. He hit 9-of-15 overall, 2-of-6 from downtown. Vilmont had a terrific all-around game with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, both game-highs. Powell added nine points, seven boards and a career-high five assists. The Judges won the battle of the turnovers, 15-11, and converted them into a 19-6 edge in points off those miscues.
Amherst answered with five players scoring in double digits, led by McCarthy's 17, 11 of which came in the first half. Racy added 15 points, all on 3-pointers, while Dawson scored 10 of his 13 in the second half. Riopel had 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds off the bench, while Green finished with 10 and tied for team-high honors with three assists. The Lord Jeffs edged Brandeis on the boards, 37-34. The win avenges a 2014-15 non-conference loss, the second time in a week Amherst has accomplished that.
Brandeis is done for the semester and will be back in action on December 30th against Fitchburg State. Amherst is headed for a top-25 showdown against #19 Babson on Thursday night.
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