March 15, 2008

Winningest season in men's hoops history comes to close with 65-55 loss to Amherst in Elite Eight

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. -- Coach Brian Meehan described his team as "the team that all future teams will be compared to", but their season came to a close tonight as the Brandeis University men's basketball team, ranked fifth in the nation, fell to No. 3 Amherst College, 65-55, in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals to close out the winningest season in school history.

Brandeis (23-6) ends its season with a 10-point loss to a team they had defeated by 10 points earlier in the season. As in the previous meeting, the team that led at the half was unable to hang on to win the game, as the Judges lost for just the third time when they won the first 20 minutes of play. Brandeis took a 29-24 lead thanks to stingy defense - holding the Lord Jeffs to 36 percent shooting - and the shooting of junior guard Kevin Olson. Olson's four-point play 4:21 into the game gave the Judges an 8-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish until the second half. It was part of an 11-point half that led the Judges at the break. The lone bright spot for Amherst in the first half was forward Fletcher Walters, who had 13 points to lead all scorers on 6-of-10 shooting. The rest of the team was 5-of-20.

Amherst (26-3), which advances to its fourth Final Four since 2001, and Brandeis traded points for the first seven possessions of the second half. The Judges blinked first, as sophomore Terrell Hollins missed a free throw with the score 36-32 and 17:35 left on the clock. Brandeis got the offensive rebound, but they were unable to convert, giving Amherst an opening.

The Lord Jeffs took advantage with their defensive pressure, as they held Brandeis without a field goal for the next nine minutes, scoring 17 unanswered points. With the game tied, 36-36, Amherst was able to turn fast-break opportunities into three straight dunks, two by Kevin Hopkins and one by Brandon Jones, that gave them a 42-36 lead with just over six minutes gone. That forced Brandeis to call a time-out, but it didn't stop the momentum, as the Lord Jeffs scored the next seven points to take a 49-36 lead on a Matt Goldsmith free throw. The lead remained in double figures much of the rest of the way. The Judges were able to creep within seven points on a back-door lay-up by sophomore Andre Roberson and a pair of Joe Coppens free throws with 3:33 remaining, but they could get no closer.

Coppens led the Judges with 18 points, 13 coming in the second half, and eight rebounds. He closes his career with 1,098 points, 21st on Brandeis's career scoring list. Hollins added 13 points, while Olson was kept off the board in the second half, finishing with 11. All-time assists leader, senior guard Kwame Graves-Fulgham finished his career with four assists on the night and 473 for his career. The Brandeis class of 2008 ends their career with 71 wins and back-to-back NCAA tournament berths.

Amherst was paced by Walters, who finished with a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. Hopkins had 12 and Jones 11 for the Lord Jeffs, who blocked 12 Brandeis shots, three each by Walters and Mike Holsey. Senior All-American guard Andrew Olson finished with nine points and a game-high seven assists.