Hoffmann '19 scores 15 as Hamilton men drop NESCAC final

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The Amherst College Mammoths earned an automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Division III championship with a 62-56 victory against the Hamilton College Continentals in the 2019 NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship final at Hamilton's Margaret Bundy Scott Field House on Sunday afternoon.

The Continentals (23-4 overall) will learn their NCAA fate on Monday, Feb. 25 at 12:30 p.m. when the 64-team field is announced on NCAA.com. Hamilton was the No. 2 seed for the conference championship and the Continentals were appearing in the NESCAC final for the first time since they joined the conference for basketball in 2011-12. Hamilton is ranked eighth in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll and second in the Northeast Region by the NCAA.

Amherst (23-4) avenged an 81-77 regular-season loss at Hamilton less than two weeks ago on Feb. 13. The Mammoths were the No. 3 seed for the conference championship as they captured their eighth NESCAC title and first since 2014. Amherst is ranked 13th by D3hoops.com and first in the Northeast Region by the NCAA. The Mammoths, the Continentals and Middlebury all tied for first place in the conference standings at the end of the regular season with identical 7-3 NESCAC records.

Peter Hoffmann '19 paced Hamilton with 15 points and two blocked shots. Hoffmann moved into 10th place on the team's all-time scoring list with 1,431 career points. Kena Gilmour '20 nearly posted a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds, and Michael Grassey '19 chipped in 10 points and eight boards before he fouled out in the final minute. Tim Doyle '19 was credited with three of the Continentals' seven steals. Hamilton made more free throws (15) than Amherst attempted (10).

Grant Robinson helped lead the Mammoths with 16 points and four assists. Fru Che dropped in 16 points, Devonn Allen added 14, and C.J. Bachmann came off the bench to score 10. Six-foot, 10-inch Joe Schneider was a force down low with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Schneider helped Amherst enjoy a 49-36 advantage on the glass with 15 offensive boards.

Hoffmann's offensive rebound and putback off a missed 3-pointer pulled the Continentals within 58-56 with 1:04 left. Hamilton had a chance to tie or take the lead after the Mammoths were whistled for an offensive foul with 42.4 seconds remaining, but Gilmour couldn't convert on a drive to the basket and Bachmann secured the defensive board. Garrett Day made both free throws and put Amherst up by four with 28.4 seconds to go. The Continentals missed another 3-point attempt with 15 seconds left and Robinson grabbed the defensive rebound. Robinson's two free throws with 12.8 seconds remaining clinched the title for the Mammoths.

The defenses were stifling on both sides as neither team shot as much as 37 percent from the field. Amherst held a 36-31 lead at the half and matched its largest lead of nine points at 40-31 with 17:34 to go after baskets by Robinson and Che.

Hamilton clawed back to within a point on three occasions in the second half but never tied the score or took the lead. Hoffmann's layup with 13:17 left made it 43-42, a basket in the paint by Gilmour drew the Continentals within 47-46 with 11:26 remaining, and an offensive rebound and layup by Andrew Groll '19 cut the Mammoths' lead to 52-51 with 4:04 to go.

There were four ties and six lead changes in the first half as neither team led by more than nine points. A steal and fast-break lay-in by Doyle gave Hamilton its largest advantage of four points at 11-7 with 14:06 left. A 3-pointer by Mark Lutz '20 put the Continentals in front for the last time at 20-19 with 9:23 remaining. Amherst responded with a 14-4 run that put the Mammoths in the lead for good. A basket from beyond the arc by Che capped the spurt and put Amherst up 33-24 with 2:33 to go.