Wesleyan’s men’s basketball won the Little Three Title with a thrilling 73-72 overtime victory on the road against No. 8 Amherst College on Feb. 7.
Jordan Bonner ’19 knocked down a three-point buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime, and then hit the game-winning free throws to help guide the team to victory in non-conference action. With the win, the Cardinals snapped Amherst’s 32-game home winning streak and claimed the Little Three title outright.
The Cardinals, who shared the Little Three title with Amherst a year ago, won it outright for the first time since the 1990-91 season and the 15th time overall. Wesleyan snapped Amherst’s 32-game home winning streak, and handed the Purple & White just its sixth home loss in the past seven seasons (100-6 record since 2010-11). Additionally, the Cardinals have now won four of the past five meetings against their arch rival, and defeated Amherst earlier in the season at home, 73-59 to sweep Amherst for the first time since the ’90-91 season.
Tuesday’s win was Wesleyan’s third against a top-10 team this year.
“I’m very proud of our effort on the road, it was a big response after a very tough two point loss to Williams last weekend,” said head coach Joe Reilly. “This was our 10th road game in the past 14 games and our guys have learned to find ways to win when faced with adversity. It was a great win for our program – an outright Little Three Championship was one of our main goals at the start of the season.”
The “Little Three” schools – Wesleyan, Amherst and Williams, first formally banded together in 1899 as the Triangular League and since 1910, the teams (once referred to as “The Triumvirate”) have continued to play. The Little Three is believed to be America’s oldest, continuous intercollegiate athletic conference without a membership change.
The first 20 minutes of game action featured back-and-forth play throughout, with the largest margin a seven-point Amherst lead at the 7:57 mark. Trailing 23-16, Wesleyan went on a 6-0 run with three-point plays from Kevin O’Brien ’19 and Nathan Krill ’18, respectively. With 3:05 to play in the half, a lay-up by O’Brien knotted the game at 26-26. Seconds later, the sophomore forced an Amherst turnover and a jumper by Harry Rafferty ’17 gave the Cardinals their first lead since just under 13 minutes to play. A lay-up by Joseph Kuo ’17 with 1:01 remaining in the half proved to be the final basket of the first as Wesleyan held a 30-29 advantage at the break.
In the second half, the Cardinals came out hot to start the second half as they went on a 13-0 run to go ahead by 14. Wesleyan’s defense held Amherst scoreless for the first 7:53 of the second until a lay-up by Eric Conklin broke the scoreless streak at the 12:07 mark. After back-to-back baskets by the Cardinals extended their lead to 16, the Amherst rallied with a 13-0 run to cut the deficit to three with 8:13 remaining.
Amherst got within one on three occasions until finally tying the game at 53-53 after a pair of free throws from Reid Berman at the 4:50 mark. With 1:42 to play, Kuo had an open look to the basket and threw down a two-handed dunk. However, Michael Riopel responded with a three-pointer to cut the deficit to two. Amherst went on a 5-0 run to go ahead 65-62 with :05 on the clock, but a clutch buzzer-beater by Bonner sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, Rafferty hit a three-pointer for the first basket of the extra period, and a tip-in by Jordan Sears ’18 on Wesleyan’s next possession put the visitor’s up by four.
Amherst, however, regained the lead after a fast break lay-up by Jayde Dawson off a Wesleyan turnover put the home team ahead, 72-71 with 1:30 to play. With :45 remaining on the clock, Bonner hit a pair of free throws to give the Cardinals a 73-72 lead.
The Cardinals wrap up the 2016-17 regular season schedule this weekend at home as they host Bowdoin Feb. 10 and Colby on Feb. 11. For more information visit the Wesleyan Athletics website.