Hamilton College's Kena Gilmour '20 poured in 23 points and the nationally ranked No. 10 Continentals edged the 11th-ranked Amherst College Mammoths 81-77 in NESCAC action at Hamilton's Margaret Bundy Scott Field House on Wednesday night.
The Continentals (21-3, 7-3 NESCAC) clinched the No. 2 seed for the 2019 NESCAC Men's Basketball Championship. Hamilton, which is ranked third in the Northeast Region by the NCAA, will host No. 7 seed Colby College in a quarterfinal this weekend. The seeding is the highest for the Continentals since they joined the conference for basketball in 2011-12. Hamilton tied for first place in the NESCAC standings for the second year in a row by defeating a ranked opponent for the second time in five days.
Amherst (20-4, 7-3) had its win streak snapped at six games. The Mammoths are the third seed for the NESCAC tournament and will host No. 6 seed Wesleyan University on Saturday, Feb. 16. Amherst is the No. 1 team in the latest NCAA Northeast Region rankings.
Gilmour has scored 20 or more points in three straight games and four of the last five. He had 17 of his 23 in the second half as the Continentals recovered from a seven-point deficit at the break. Peter Hoffmann '19 chipped in 18 points, Sayo Denloye '20 came off the bench and notched all 13 of his points in the first half, and Andrew Groll '19 added 11. Michael Grassey '19 grabbed nine rebounds and Tim Doyle '19 handed out seven assists.
Fru Che paced the Mammoths with 18 points. Grant Robinson posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards and added five assists. Joe Schneider was 7 of 8 from the floor and finished with 14 points, and C.J. Bachmann dropped in 11. Eric Sellew contributed nine rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots.
Robinson gave Amherst its last lead at 76-75 on a jumper with 43.3 seconds left. Hamilton clinched the victory by going 6-for-6 at the free-throw line down the stretch. Hoffmann couldn't convert on a shot in the paint but the rebound was tipped out to Doyle at the top of the key and he collided with an Amherst player. He knocked down both free throws with 28.9 seconds remaining and put the Continentals in the lead for good.
The Mammoths missed a jumper on their next possession but grabbed the offensive rebound. Doyle then forced a turnover and Gilmour was fouled with 5.5 seconds to go. He calmly swished both free throws for a 79-76 advantage, and Hamilton fouled Sellew near halfcourt with 4.2 seconds left before Amherst could attempt a tying 3-pointer. Sellew made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose, but stepped into the lane too early.
Grassey threw a long baseball-style inbounds pass to a sprinting Gilmour and caught him in-stride past halfcourt where he was fouled with 3.4 seconds remaining. Gilmour secured the win by nailing two more free throws and putting the Continentals up by four.
There were six ties and five lead changes in the second half. The Mammoths held a 41-34 cushion at the half but Hamilton came out hot at the start of the second and took its first lead with an 11-2 run. Gilmour started the spurt with a layup and Groll rolled to the hoop for another basket in the paint. Hoffmann and Groll sandwiched two more layups around a dunk by Schneider, and Doyle gave the Continentals a 45-43 edge on a 3-pointer with 17:19 to go.
Hoffmann knocked down a 3-pointer for a 50-45 Hamilton cushion with 16:04 left, and back-to-back trifectas by Hoffmann and Grassey handed the Continentals their largest lead of six points at 56-50 with 13:42 remaining. Amherst came back to take a 65-63 edge with 9:21 to go, but Hamilton responded with a 10-2 run for a 73-67 advantage with 3:31 left. Hoffmann scored six points and Gilmour added four during the spurt. Hoffmann scored 16 points during the final 20 minutes while Che and Robinson combined for 27 of the Mammoths' 36 points.
Amherst jumped out to 6-0 and 11-1 leads early and led the entire first half. The Mammoths flaunted their size during the opening 20 minutes as they scored 30 points in the paint, owned a 27-17 advantage on the glass, and blocked three shots. The Continentals clawed back within two points twice at 30-28 on a 3-pointer by Denloye and again at 32-30 on a Denloye layup. The 6-foot, 10-inch Schneider led Amherst with 12 points and Bachmann added nine off the bench in the first half.